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They Got Next: Where Austin, Charlotte Stand a Year Away From MLS

Inter Miami and Nashville SC just began life in MLS, but they won't be the new kids on the block for long. Here's where Austin and Charlotte stand a year before they make MLS a 28-team league.

MLS is in the midst of its most aggressive growth period. Consider that for a stretch from 2015-2022, only one of those years (2016) will have not included the addition of at least one expansion team and the league will have grown from 18 clubs to 30. 

FC Cincinnati, the 2019 addition, is slated to open its new stadium next year. Inter Miami and Nashville SC just began life in the league this past week, with each showing some promise but ultimately falling in one-goal defeats in their respective debuts. Their long-term stadium solutions are both in the works. Plans are already being sorted for 2022, when St. Louis and Sacramento fill out the league even more, with both of those clubs set to build soccer-specific stadiums as well.

But before then, there's next season and the addition of two more cities: Austin and Charlotte. Both are well into planning for their arrivals, but there's still plenty of work to be done before they are ready for launch. Here's where things currently stand with the two teams that will make MLS a 28-team league (for one year):

AUSTIN

Team name: Austin FC.

The club's crest and branding indicates the team will wear some combination of black, green and white on the field. It already has a jersey sponsor in outdoor equipment outfit Yeti, and the first of its jerseys is slated to be revealed during the 2020 holiday season, according to a club announcement.

Key personnel in place: Sporting director Claudio Reyna; Head coach Josh Wolff; Chief scout Manuel Junco; Academy technical director Juan Delgado.

In Reyna and Wolff, Austin has two former U.S. men's national team players at the helm of their on-field operations. Reyna oversaw NYCFC's creation and first few years before taking the Austin job, while Wolff was an assistant coach in MLS and with the USMNT under Gregg Berhalter. The two were together in Columbus, where Austin owner Anthony Precourt oversaw the club prior to the saga that nearly resulted in the Crew's relocation only for Precourt to get an expansion Austin franchise instead, while the Haslam and Edwards families took charge of the MLS original.

Players: None.

“Claudio and I have talked a lot about what we envision the game to be, our minds look at the game in a similar way," Wolff told MLS's official website last week. "Flexibility, offensive and balance. ... He comes from an environment where playing attack-minded, possession soccer was important. That’s reflective of what we’re going to try and build in Austin. It’s easier said than done. We want to have our way of playing, it’s important it’s reflected in the coaches we have, the philosophy we drive home and the players we bring in."

Stadium situation: Club's 20,500-seat soccer-specific stadium at McKalla Place is under construction and due to open next spring, though not in time for the start of the 2021 season. That means Austin FC is due to spend its opening matches in MLS on the road until the stadium is ready. April 2021 appears to be the target, though that will be determined more accurately in a few months.

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"We'll have a better sense of the exact [opening] date when we get through the finalization of the structure in late June or July of this year," Austin FC president Andy Loughnane told the Austin Chronicle last month. "There's so much construction in this area, so we have to manage our schedule around other projects that are being developed, but we are on target for a spring 2021 delivery."

Last June, Austin claimed to have received 30,000 season-ticket deposits, putting the club well on its way to having a lengthy waitlist for the portion of seats set aside for season-ticket holders. 

Austin-Charlotte-MLS-2021

CHARLOTTE

Team name: To be determined.

Colors, name and branding are slated to be revealed in "the coming months" according to Charlotte's club website.

Key personnel in place: Technical director Mark Nicholls; Sporting director Zoran Krneta; Head of Analytics Mark Simpson; Director of scouting Thomas Schaling; Academy manager Dan Lock.

Charlotte is swinging big with some of its early hires, and while the club has not yet hired a coach (given that Miami didn't bring in Diego Alonso until two months prior to the start of the MLS season, there's plenty of time before it gets late in the game), the technical staff in place comes with impressive credentials. Nicholls was the former director of player development for the Seattle Sounders and has previous ties to the Charlotte area, while Krneta previously brokered contracts for some significant players across the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and MLS. 

Players: None.

"I think we could have the first players arrive in the summer," Schaling told the club's official website. "But most of the players won’t be here until January or February."

Stadium situation: The club will play at the Carolina Panthers' Bank of America Stadium. It's owned by billionaire Panthers owner Dave Tepper, who paid a reported record expansion fee of $325 million–over three times what NYCFC paid for its 2015 expansion team and over 30 times what Real Salt Lake paid for its 2005 entry. Charlotte's ascent in the MLS expansion realm was rapid, and it has a considerable financial backing. 

As of late January, Charlotte had already received over 22,000 season ticket deposits, and Tepper reportedly told the league that the club could average between 40,000 and 60,000 fans per match. That would skyrocket Charlotte to the top of league attendance figures and put the club in the same territory as Seattle and Atlanta, who also share their stadiums with NFL franchises. The club is reportedly mulling personal seat licenses as an option as well.