As Charlotte prepares for MLS, Independence moves to lower USL division

·2 min read
Khadejeh Nikouyeh/Knikouyeh@charlotteobserver.com

As Charlotte FC joins Major League Soccer next season, another professional men’s soccer team in the city will make a move to a lower division.

The Charlotte Independence confirmed Thursday night its plans to compete in USL League One in 2022. The team has competed in USL Championship, the second tier of men’s professional soccer in the U.S. behind MLS, since 2015. The Independence recorded its best season this year with a second place finish in the Atlantic Division and a 18-9-6 record.

“We believe the Independence can better serve the Charlotte soccer community by increasing our focus on developing up-and-coming soccer players as they hone their talents,” Charlotte Independence CEO & Managing Partner Jim McPhilliamy said in a statement. “Having our men’s professional team compete in USL League One provides an excellent opportunity to field even more players with Queen City roots.”

A change in the club’s future has long been speculated, especially with the arrival of an MLS expansion club in the city; Charlotte FC’s competitive debut was pushed back a season to 2022 due to the pandemic after the franchise was announced in December 2019. Three Charlotte FC players competed with the Independence on loan for the latest USL Championship season, helping the team earn its first post-season victory in club history.

The Independence said that it will continue to play in the newly renovated, 10,500 capacity American Legion Memorial Stadium in Charlotte next season, when it also launches a pre-professional USL women’s team in the W League.

In March, the league announced that majority owner Dan DiMicco would sell his stake in the Independence amid fan pushback for DiMicco propagating conspiracy theory tweets related to the coronavirus and his anti-Black Lives Matter rhetoric on social media. DiMicco was quoted in the team’s press release Thursday evening announcing the move to League One and the team confirmed to The Observer his role as majority owner.

McPhilliamy told Charlotte Business Journal in September that the league was unable to force out an owner, and DiMicco could remain if the team did not find an investor to buy him out and dropped to a lower-level division.

The lower entry fees in USL League One versus USL Championship, a reported difference of $9 million, made the self-relegation move attractive for the Independence. The club has also reportedly struggled to pay its employees in a timely manner and suffered from extensive operating losses.

The club also highlighted rivalries with former USL Championship teams, the Richmond Kickers and North Carolina FC, the latter of which moved to League One for the 2021 season.

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