By Brian Maurer
Images courtesy of Charlotte FC
For the Carolinas. For the Crown. These are the battle cries that Charlotte FC supporters have been shouting since the team’s inception. They are the central lines to everything the supporters watch this team for. A cry to win for the people of the Carolinas, and the Carolina’s sports capital, Charlotte. While signing foreign players is common in the MLS today, Charlotte FC also opted to sign several players who had played in the area, or grew up in North Carolina. The value of providing the fanbase with hometown heroes is it creates a bridge between the team and the fans. A familial trust that the fans know their team not only plays for them, but that the team is a part of them.
In an interview with Ryan Bailey during the early stages of forming the club, Zoran Krneta, Charlotte FC’s Sporting Director, mentioned the importance of scouting the Carolinas for players. “The scouting will be done worldwide, of course, with a huge focus and accent on the Carolinas…if the Carolinas can give us one Michael Jordan, arguably the best athlete of all time, why wouldn’t we find a Michael Jordan in soccer”. Krneta clearly saw the elite level of athletes that the Carolinas are capable of producing, and made sure that the local market was tapped into from a competitive standpoint. The emotional ties that local players can have with their fans is another reason to sign locally developed athletes. Fans are going to have a special connection with these players, as they will have shared memories and experiences. These are the signings that will pull on the fanbase’s heartstrings, and when they succeed will land themselves in Carolinian annals of history.
Image courtesy of Charlotte FC
The Hometown Heroes
Jaylin Lindsey, Brandt Bronico, Adam Armour, and George Marks all had ties to the Carolinas before signing with Charlotte FC. Lindsey told team staff writer Caleb Adams “I knew at one point in my career I wanted to play for Charlotte. It’s my hometown club”. When Lindsey was growing up there was no MLS track for him to rise through in the Carolinas. Luckily for Charlotte FC, he found an alternative path, and wound up home, where Charlotte FC fans get to enjoy watching him race up and down the right side of the pitch.
Bronico told writer Ryan Bailey “Stepping on that field will honestly be a dream come true, to represent Charlotte and play in a stadium that I’ve been going to since I was little will mean so much to me”. Bronico played his college ball for the Charlotte 49ers, before gaining professional MLS experience playing for the Chicago Fire. Now, living his dream, fans have the opportunity to interact with him on the pitch by watching him play fearlessly in a defensive midfield role. Bronico has also made himself accessible to fans off the pitch through supporter group podcasts like the Mint City Soccer Show, and on his blog B3: Blogging Bronico’s Brain.
Armour told writer Ryan Bailey “I always felt an MLS team is something we needed in the Carolinas–and I’m excited to finally have it, and be a part of it”. Armour developed his skills locally at the North Carolina FC academy, before honing them further in Nürnberg, Germany. Returning to begin his professional career in Charlotte, it took Armour only three games to make history with the club, scoring the first ever Charlotte FC goal off a corner kick. After this moment, he quickly became a fan favorite. Unfortunately, fans will have to wait for next season for more memorable moments from Armour, as he had to undergo ACL reconstruction surgery at the beginning of May.
Marks told Charlotte FC, “I love North Carolina, I’ve always loved North Carolina…It gives me a pretty easy sense of pride right off the bat…I know what soccer means to the fans of this state, and how much they’ve craved it for so long and I’m excited to bring it to them with this team”. Marks made his professional debut as the starting keeper in the US Open, making many clutch saves along the way. He was an instrumental help to the team reaching the round of 16.
Image courtesy of Charlotte FC
The Homegrown Heroes
As Charlotte FC are in their inaugural season, they have yet to develop any players all the way through the youth ranks into the senior squad (e.g., homegrown prospect). This will be another pathway for local players to make a professional name for themselves in the Carolinas. Charlotte FC, however, do have several players, along with Marks, who have made their professional debuts during this season, and are growing as players and utilizing Charlotte as their first professional soccer home.
SuperDraft first pick, Ben Bender, made not only his debut, but has been a regular starter for the club. “One of my teammates said that the Charlotte scouts were at our game, and it just kinda got me really excited cause my brother had been in Charlotte a couple of years before and I was like ‘wow that would be amazing to move down there and finally get to play professionally’, and it came true, so I’m really excited now” Bender reflected in an interview with MLS Gone Wild host Blake Eshelman. Bender has since become an up-and-coming prospect whom Charlotte FC fans adore, and will likely never forget that his first professional kit was one of the Black and Blues.
Fullback, Koa Santos, also made his professional debut this year, and has played in two of Charlotte FC’s US Open Cup matches. He currently is playing on loan for the Charlotte Independence this year, and has a laser of a goal from way outside the box to his name. The goal can be found on USL League One’s YouTube page, it’s definitely worth the watch.
Local players and those who develop and grow with a club at the professional level provide a special kind of adoration for the fans. For local players, the fans share a familiarity and collective passion by growing up in a similar place. For young developing players starting their careers, fans enjoy sharing in the moments that they get to see them grow from a prospect into a realization. Those early career moments are unique, and get to be shared by fans and players alike. Many of the tabloids and pundits will write about the big signings, the designated players, because they draw the bigger story lines. But, when new players come to join the club and they ask the question “why is it for the Carolinas, and for the crown?” The local Carolinians, and homegrown players who have spent their entire professional careers playing for Charlotte FC will provide not only the answer but the passion that only living somewhere and growing with a club provides. That is the passion that started in the Carolina fanbase before Charlotte FC. Now, that passion can be meshed into the life of the locker room, the field, and the stands at Bank of America Stadium. “For the Crown! Por La Corona!”