The Front of the Line
by Johnny Wakefield
It started as most of these addresses tend to start.
Don Garber stood up Friday night in Seattle to deliver the 2019 State of the League address and said everything about MLS was just the greatest. Interest in the league "is at an all-time high." This year's playoffs have been "the greatest ever." This upcoming MLS Cup sold out in 20 minutes, will have "the highest attendance ever," and will be televised in over 170 countries.
But if you were waiting for the same news I was, you had to wait a bit. At the 14-minute mark, the MLS commissioner hit on expansion, detailing the upcoming additions of Miami and Nashville in 2020, Austin in 2021, and St. Louis and Sacramento in 2022, bringing the total number of teams to 29.
Then, he flirted with the good stuff: "As you know, there will be a 30th."But he quickly moved off the subject, explaining that he had no news to announce at this time, and that the "MLS expansion committee is reviewing candidates, but it's very likely that we will announce team 30 in the next number of months."
The prepared speech lasted just 15 minutes, but then journalists were allowed to ask Garber anything they wanted, and Grant Wahl came to every Charlotte fan's rescue.
"Don, you mentioned that the announcement for the 30th team could come in the next couple of months here, which suggests that you may have an idea of what that is. The people I'm talking to suggest that Charlotte is far and away the most likely candidate to get that team. I was wondering if you could comment on that and also just what Charlotte's bid brings to the table."
Don praised the passion and the work done by David Tepper and the Panthers, and then described Charlotte as "moving their bid, really, to the front of the line." He talked about the "diversity of the fan base," the "corporate energy" of the city, talked about Carolina as "a good state" for soccer (Team #OneCarolina, raise up), and then ended by saying that if Charlotte ended up having a team, he's "confident that they'll be successful."
The buzz on the internet was instantaneous, or at least it was on my phone. Friends started sending me tweets from local and national journalists; articles popped up on ESPN.com and Sports Illustrated. Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic had my favorite tweet of the night, simply saying "(it's happening gif)."
So... is it?
On our end, as fans of the game and potential supporters of a potential club (potentially), all we can say right now is that the reality of an MLS team in Charlotte sure seems closer now than it ever has before.