The USL Championship announced on Monday that North Carolina FC has exercised its option to rejoin the league, beginning in the 2024 season.
The USL Championship is the top level of the United Soccer League’s men’s soccer pathway, featuring 24 teams in 2023, and is sanctioned as a Division II league by U.S. Soccer. North Carolina FC previously competed in the Championship between 2018 and 2020 before moving to USL League One in 2021. The team is currently playing its third season in the Division III-sanctioned league in 2023. The move to rejoin the Championship exemplifies the club's mission of bringing high-quality, professional soccer to the Triangle.
"We are incredibly excited to compete in the USL Championship once again," said Steve Malik, majority owner of North Carolina Football Club. "This league has world-class talent across the country, and we are thrilled to be able to bring even higher-level soccer to the Triangle. We have extremely passionate and savvy sports fans in our area that demand competitive excellence from their teams. We hope that by returning to a league that is well established and highly respected, both nationally and abroad, our community will be excited to support our team and embrace this new challenge with us."
With the addition of North Carolina FC and expansion side Rhode Island FC, the USL Championship is expected to have 26 teams in 2024, with Charleston Battery, Loudoun United FC, Louisville City FC and Memphis 901 FC being the closest, geographically, to the Triangle.
"North Carolina FC has all the essential elements of a successful USL Championship club: a soccer-specific stadium, a deeply committed ownership group, and a vibrant community that loves the sport," said USL Championship President Jeremy Alumbaugh. "We congratulate Steve Malik, and everyone involved with North Carolina FC on this upcoming move, and we look forward to seeing them compete at our highest level."
"For us, this is the perfect time to move up to the USL Championship," said North Carolina FC President Francie Gottsegen. "We’ve made sweeping upgrades to our front office infrastructure while growing out of the pandemic and we feel confident we’re in a place to compete at this level, both on the field and organizationally. We owe it to our fans and community to deliver the best possible product while ensuring the stability and viability of the club for the future."
Embracing the youth-to-pro pathway, North Carolina FC’s process of blending young, rising talent with proven veterans has proven fruitful this season in USL League One. The club currently sits at the top of the league table two-thirds through the 2023 season and will look to finish its stint in League One on a high note to build momentum into next year’s return to the Championship.
"We have demonstrated a track record of bringing some of the best athletes and coaches in the world to the Triangle," said NCFC Head Coach John Bradford. "This is a market that’s very attractive, we’ve proven to have one of the best training environments in the country. Together, this region and this club have unlimited potential. Competing in the USL Championship enhances our ability to recruit and obtain top players and deliver excellence for our fans and community."