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A Christmas gift for Charlotte that keeps on giving 

(Photo: Kevin Ketchie)

 

by Johnny Wakefield

Last Monday night felt like an early Christmas Eve for soccer fans in Charlotte, one where we all knew what waited under the tree for us the next morning, but one with all the excitement nonetheless. 

Tuesday morning, we put on our mint-colored shirts, donned our scarves, and stepped out into the December rain to make our way into Uptown. We ascended the steps outside the Mint Museum, gathered outside, and waited for our cue to enter and find our places around the black-and-white MLS logo-adorned stage. 

And then it happened: Commissioner Don Garber gave David Tepper a scarf and announced that Major League Soccer was coming to Charlotte in 2021.

The room erupted in cheers, and the non-stop click of photographers' cameras echoed through the room. Tepper gave his acceptance speech and inspired the first slogan for the Collective. Mayor Vi Lyles talked about the impact this team would make on our city. Even USWNT and NC Courage legend Heather O'Reilly got in on the fun with some Carolina-themed singing.

The moment I'll remember most? The watery eyes. Ha! During the MLS hype montage video that ended the morning's press conference, Jay Landskroener and I made eye contact from across the room. It was all really happening. We nodded at each other with a smile and both went back to watching the video. I couldn't help but get teary then, and he admitted to the same later. We were both thinking about this game, this league, that the two of us and so many others have loved for so long. It was coming to our city, the one that we've all made home. 

And this moment provides us with so much opportunity.

The Mint City Collective is about soccer, yes. We'll support the hell out of our MLS team in 2021, we'll make plenty of noise at games, and we'll even buy shirts and scarves and hats and whatever the hell else we can find over the next few decades.

And it's about building a soccer community, one without gatekeeping, without all of the -isms that threaten to hold us back from getting to know each other better and supporting each other when we need support. More on that in a minute.

But more than soccer, we support and represent Charlotte. Gathered together in 2019 and without an MLS team to follow in 2020, we now have a chance to make a real impact over the course of the next 14 months, before our team plays a single game.

To that end, members in the Collective Slack have already suggested service projects, tutoring partnerships, getting involved with kids leagues, clothing donation drives for this winter, volunteering with Street Soccer 658, sponsoring streets and trash pickups, and organizing other events to give back to this community. We're a force of nearly 1000 members already: there's no limit to what we'll be able to do.

So let's do that. Let's gather together in neighborhood chapters and as a massive Collective to be a force for good in 2020, a year that threatens to divide our city rather than unite and build it up. Get into Slack and talk about how you want to help us make that happen.

Don't worry, we're going to have a lot of fun too. We got our team on Tuesday morning, but on Tuesday night, we had a party. Hundreds of Mint City Collective members marched together into Brewers at 4001 Yancey and the MLS launch party. We heard Mayor Lyles yell, "We got a soccer team, damn it!" And we got to know each other, see friends some of us hadn't seen in years, and put faces to names we'd only seen online. 

Let's do that more often. 

Our group of Mint City organizers (Zack Luttrell, Jay Landskroener, Kendall Jackson, and I) have put together a tentative calendar for Mint City Collective events in 2020. We'll share more on each event as we work out final details, and there's always room for more additions, but here are a few big "Save the Dates" you're going to want to write down now - chances to get together, drink beer, watch soccer, and become a more united Collective:

January 23: 4-on-4 "Volta" tournament at Project 658
February 8: Mint City night with the Charlotte Checkers
February 29: Away Trip to Nashville SC vs. Atl*nta United
March 9: "Screw that City" watch party for Hornets at Hawks
March 26: Mexico National Team match at Bank of America Stadium 
April 4: Queen City Outlaws Prom
April 5: "Screw that City" day with the Hornets (vs. Atl*nta at 1pm)
April 18: Knights Soccer Saturday #1 vs. the Durham Bulls
May 16: Knights Soccer Saturday #2 vs. the Gwinnett Stripers
May 24: Away Trip to Atl*nta United vs. Inter Miami CF
June 6: Knights Soccer Saturday #3 vs. Scranton Wilkes-Barre
July 11: Knights Soccer Saturday #4 vs. the Indianapolis Indians
July 29: MLS All-Star Game watch party at Hooligans
August 1: Away Trip to D.C. United vs. Columbus Crew
August 8: Knights Soccer Saturday #5 vs. the Norfolk Tides
September 5: Knights Soccer Saturday #6 vs. the Gwinnett Stripers

Yes y'all, this thing is really happening.

Tuesday morning, MLS announced that the league is coming to Charlotte in 2021. But that gift from "Papa Tepper," as some of you are calling him in Slack, just kicked off our plans for 2020 too. His is the gift that won't stop giving, both to us as a Collective as we find reasons to get together, and to Charlotte as a whole, as we find ways to connect to the city and make it stronger, intertwining neighborhoods and communities, building off those connections, and having a lot of fun while we do it. 

Let's go.

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