Soccer community excited as local group plans to bring professional soccer back to Wilmington
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A group called USL to Wilmington has been given exclusive rights by the United Soccer League to pursue a professional franchise in the port city. The franchise would begin play in 2024 as part of USL League One.
USL to Wilmington is a group that includes Scott Sullivan with Cameron Management, Chris Mumford with the University of North Carolina, and former Wilmington Hammerheads midfielder Dewan Bader.
The Hammerheads was the last professional soccer team to call Wilmington home, having ceased operations in 2017. Since then, Carson Porter has taken the lead on the club’s youth program, that is still active today. Porter says he’s excited about the opportunity for children to have a professional team so close to home.
“Anything that gives our kids a chance to watch the game, gives our families a chance to watch the game at a really high level is always going to be something that we’re going to be excited about,” Porter said.
The group plans to build a soccer-specific stadium in southeastern North Carolina as part of a mixed-use development.
“We believe that it is critically important to have what we call an outdoor community center — anchored by a soccer-specific stadium — that provides a mix of wellness, entertainment and sports in one district,” Mumford said in a press release.
The news of a possible professional team’s return to Wilmington comes as the sport’s popularity grows in North Carolina. Charlotte FC is in the midst of its first season in the MLS.
Former Hammerheads player Junior Zarate also spoke about the importance of having a professional team to inspire young players in Wilmington.
“For me, I see kids now that are like 18-20 that used to be ball boys and they’re like ‘I used to come watch you play’ and then seeing how they are so excited now that there will be an option in Wilmington so those local kids can pursue their dreams too,” Zarate said.
USL League One already has two other teams: Charlotte Independence and North Carolina FC.
“The goal of this project is to change life trajectories for the better, both on and off the pitch. Our focus is on wellness, entertainment and sport,” Mumford said in the press release.
Soccer professionals say the sport has evolved since the Hammerheads played their last game at Legion Stadium.
“Soccer, just like a lot of other industries, was changing,” Porter said. “It had challenges when the Hammerheads left, but the idea of bringing them back — I think, I’ve always said when anybody asked me is that this community loves their professional soccer and is ready for it.”
Porter says a new professional team in Wilmington would give younger players role models and an outlet to experience the game in ways they have not been able to so close to home.
“It’s a global sport, which is something else that I think makes it unique, the idea that you can connect with people all over the globe who are watching this game, you know, makes it special, Porter said.
You can learn more about USL to Wilmington by clicking here.
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