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MLS Delays Charlotte's Debut For A Year Amid 'Challenging 2020'

Make that 2022 - Charlotte MLS owner David Tepper (right) and MLS commissioner Don Garber at December's announcement that Charlotte was getting an MLS team.
David Boraks
Make that 2022 - Charlotte MLS owner David Tepper (right) and MLS commissioner Don Garber at December's announcement that Charlotte was getting an MLS team.

Major League Soccer's debut in Charlotte is being pushed back a year, to 2022. The team was supposed to start playing next spring, but the league is giving three expansion franchises more time to hire staff, assemble teams and complete stadiums.

The move comes as the league faces challenges this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. 

“We have always taken a thoughtful and strategic approach to our expansion planning and have delivered successful launches for every new club,” Garber said. “It is important for each club to take the necessary time to launch their inaugural MLS seasons the way their fans and communities deserve. With the extra year to make up for what has been a challenging 2020, these teams will be well-positioned for their debuts and for long-term success.” 

The Charlotte team, owned by Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, is continuing work toward its launch. It plans to announce its name and team colors Wednesday. 

But Tom Glick, the president of Tepper Sports & Entertainment, said the team needs more time to make key changes at Bank of America Stadium and other initiatives.  

"After a lot of discussion with Major League Soccer, we are confident it is in the best interest of our club and our supporters to take additional time to ensure a successful inaugural season,” Glick said in a press release. 

 “When we were awarded the team in December, we knew we were on an extremely tight timeline to begin play in 2021, but we were ready to meet that challenge. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted several of our essential initiatives. We have made huge progress in the last few months but having additional time to build is important," Glick said. 

St. Louis and Sacramento, which were supposed to start playing in 2022, also will push their starts back by a year, to 2023.  Meanwhile, Austin FC, in Texas, will debut on schedule next year. 

The MLS suspended its season for four months because of the coronavirus pandemic. Teams are playing a tournament in Orlando, Florida, that began earlier this month and wraps up with a championship game on Aug. 11. 

Last week, Charlotte announced the signing of its first player -- midfielder Sergio Ruiz of Spanish team Racing Santander. 

Officials said they're ready to sign additional players when professional soccer's "transfer window" opens later this summer. 

Meanwhile, Charlotte MLS said fans who placed ticket deposits this year for the first season will be able to choose seats at Bank of America Stadium this fall. 

“We are committed to bringing Major League Soccer to our city and region,” Tepper said in a press release. “The party’s still on! We are just delaying it a bit to ensure we have the best experience for our fans when we do start playing.”

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.