Charlotte Independence Plays 1st Game In New Stadium Sat.
Charlotte's bid for a Major League Soccer franchise has overshadowed the fact that the city already has a professional soccer team - the Charlotte Independence, in the United Soccer League. They'll celebrate a milestone Saturday night, when they move into a new 2,500-seat stadium in Matthews.
The match against the Harrisburg City Islanders from Pennsylvania will be the first at Mecklenburg County's newly-upgraded Matthews Sportsplex. Independence spokesman James Thomas calls it a "re-set" for the team.
"It's top of the line as far as a video board, which we haven't had before. And it's really close to downtown [Matthews], which is great for working with those businesses that are nearby. And just the location in itself is a big plus, right at the corner of 485 and Independence Boulevard," James said.
The Independence had been negotiating a $24 million deal to play at county-owned Memorial Stadium, near uptown Charlotte. But that fell apart in January when another group launched a bid for a Major League Soccer team.
They played last year at Ramblewood Soccer Complex in Charlotte, but haven't had a real home this season. Eight of their first 12 games were away, and three of the four home games were at Winthrop University in Rock Hill.
The United Soccer League is at U.S. soccer's second level. The Independence have 3 wins, 3 losses and 4 ties, and are 12th out of 15 teams in the league's Eastern Conference. That's two spots ahead of Harrisburg.
"The team is actually in pretty good form right now, with the way the schedule has been finagled to kind of back-load games so that we get more Matthews games," Thomas said. "We're a little bit behind in the table, just because we haven't played as many games as the other teams in the Eastern conference."
Charlotte is led this season by Enzo Martinez, a finalist for last year's USL Most Valuable Player award. He's a graduate of Northwestern High School in Rock Hill and played on UNC Chapel Hill's 2011 national championship team.
The Independence also have one player on loan from their MLS affiliate, the Colorado Rapids - Dennis Castillo. They're coached by Mike Jeffries.
WANT TO GO?
Opening night at the Matthews Sportsplex includes food trucks, live music and post-game fireworks. Music begins at 5 p.m., with the kickoff at 7. More information at CharlotteIndependence.com
The day-long opening also includes a morning rugby tournament. Read more on the Mecklenburg County website, MeckNC.gov/
Watch a video tour of the new stadium, CharlotteIndependence.com