BROOKLYN, N.Y. —The finish line is within sight for Charlotte.
The race for Major League Soccer’s 30th team is in its final lap, and Charlotte is closing in on claiming victory. The bid led by Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper has publicly been labeled the frontrunner since last month’s MLS Cup Final, and he and his group made a presentation on Thursday that the league’s Expansion Committee green lighted for the last round of negotiations.
“No formal approval (into the league) was granted today,” said Garber on Thursday following the MLS Board of Governors meeting. “What was approved was the Expansion Committee to now meet with David and his staff to try to finalize an agreement.”
Charlotte might seem a lock to claim that next MLS team, but Garber would not confirm nor deny reports from earlier on Thursday that said that a formal expansion announcement was set for Dec. 17.
“There is no timetable that I could comment on,” said Garber. “As I mentioned, we’re in advanced discussions. We hope to be able to finalize an agreement. I saw the (report about) Dec. 17 but I’m not going to comment on that.”
The commissioner stated shortly thereafter that the goal is to try and finalize something by the end of the year. He added, however, that there are still some unresolved issues, primarily on the stadium front.
The Charlotte bid’s plan entails playing inside of Bank of America Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Panthers. Some soccer-specific improvements in line with that of the cavernous venues of Atlanta United or the Vancouver Whitecaps need to be made before MLS gives the final thumbs up to Charlotte.
Last month, Tepper and his group made a request to local government for $100 million of taxpayer money to be used partly on the modifications.
“There is work that remains to be done on the stadium and that’s the work that will be done between now and whenever something can be finalized,” said Garber. “We’ve been through this many times before and I was reminded earlier that we came out of a board meeting I think a couple of years ago with approval to have our committee to finalize an agreement with Nashville and Cincinnati.
“Nashville got finalized pretty quickly and Cincinnati took many, many, many months to get finalized, so a lot of work needs to get done in order to get something over the finish line.”
Some of what Garber is looking for is ensuring that there is a “proper” supporters’ section for fans and tunnel for players as well as a “right environment” for the locker rooms. There is also the need to be able to downsize the capacity of the 75,525-seat venue.
“(They need) to ensure that they’re able to manage how they would size the stadium, which has not been finalized yet, in the event that they don’t end up with 70,000 fans a game and end up with fewer than that,” said Garber.
Charlotte’s place in MLS will be granted once it gets that done. The city in North Carolina is painfully close to welcoming a major league soccer team to town, but one final step still has to be taken before that 30th league franchise is granted.
“The amount of energy in that market is what has us all motivated to continue to work towards finalizing an agreement,” said Garber. “Charlotte is one of the rising, fastest growing cities in our country. The market is continuing to expand. Lots of jobs, lots of opportunity, great sports market, great soccer market, and all of that has us very motivated to try to see if we can finalize something.”