Pop quiz: what’s the most widely spoken language on the planet?
The answer isn’t Chinese Mandarin, English or Spanish.
Due to its elegant simplicity, minimal equipment requirements and universally applicable rules, it is spoken on all four corners of the globe, by people who do not share a common tongue.
Those who are lucky enough to have attended a World Cup will have seen the manner in which the emotion, excitement and energy of the game brings together people who have practically nothing else in common.
Over 3.5 billion people—more than half the world’s population over four years old—watched the most recent World Cup final. The beautiful game arguably connects people in a more universal way than any single religion or art form.
In England, “last night’s game” is the typical conversation-opener between strangers. In parts of Africa, entire towns will gather round a television to watch a game happening thousands of miles away. In the favelas of Rio, children with few means other than a makeshift ball will spend hours a day on the streets trying to emulate their heroes.
And here, in the United States, soccer is responsible for the fastest growing professional sports league, which has confirmed the location of its 30th franchise.
Yes, it is time for Charlotte to start speaking the world’s most common language.
In 2021, the world’s most popular pastime will arrive at Bank of America Stadium—and it is clear that fans in the Queen City are thrilled to have an MLS team they can call their own.
“Sports is a shared experience,” says Charlotte MLS President Tom Glick. “We’re going to build this club with our fans. This will bring a sense of belonging and an opportunity to get in on the ground floor.
“This will definitely bring this city further together.”
Hear From Charlotte Fans Video
Soccer attracts a diverse fanbase, which makes it an ideal proposition for a city like Charlotte. According to 2018 Census data, more than 50% of the city’s population come from a non-white background.
Mecklenburg is one of 21 counties in North Carolina with a majority-minority population. And the most recent population estimates, per the Charlotte Observer, show that the city has increased its Hispanic population by 33% in the last decade.
“You know, fans have been a big part of our decision here today,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber at the podium during the formal team announcement on December 17th. “We’re going to count on all of you to do what you’ve done to support the Mexican National Team, to support the U.S. National Team, to support all those international friendlies at Bank of America Stadium.”
As the Commissioner directed his comments to the swaths of enthused supporters at the Mint Museum, among them were the local chapter of Pancho Villa’s Army, Mexico’s biggest supporter group.
The Mexican National Team have enjoyed packed houses at Bank of America Stadium for matches in the 2015 and 2017 Gold Cup tournaments. El Tri will also kick off their 2020 U.S. Tour this March in Charlotte.
Many of the Mexican fans who have made their national team feel welcome in the Queen City are eager for the arrival of MLS, too.
“The Hispanic community is very excited,” says Jorge Rivera, who was born in Charlotte to parents from San Luis Potosi, Mexico. “We love soccer and cannot wait to see the team name, team colors—and especially the players we sign.”
Rivera, whose favorite team is currently Liga MX giants Chivas de Guadalajara, is also keen to see Hispanic players on the roster. “We will still support the team regardless, but we will definitely have a great relationship with the team with Hispanic players.”
Charlotte sports superfan Hector Cortes, known locally as ‘Sombrero Man,’ is equally delighted by the arrival of top-flight soccer.
“Growing up in Mexico, futbol is a huge part of our culture,” Cortes said. “Now that we will have an MLS team here, the Hispanic community will have an enormous presence during those games.
“Believe me, we’re ready for this!”
Meanwhile, the city’s preeminent supporters’ group Mint City Collective already boast 850 paid-up members and are working towards a goal of inclusivity. (The welcoming tagline on their website reads: “Welcome One, Welcome Y’all.”)
Co-founder Johnny Wakefield says the supporters’ group is looking to join forces with Pancho Villa’s Army, so that all fans will fall under the same flag.
“We are also exploring a partnership with Project 658, a charity initiative that helps at-risk members of the Charlotte community,” Wakefield said. “Additionally, we’re working with Street Soccer, a nonprofit that connects with immigrant communities on the east side of town, as a partner on our first major supporters’ group meetup this January.”
Thanks to these kind of initiatives—and the inherently inclusive nature of soccer—disenfranchised Charlotteans and communities who may not have felt served by other sports franchises can now be brought together.
The presence of a major league team will also serve as a strong example to the most important demographic in Charlotte: our youth.
In his announcement speech, Garber noted that Charlotte has “one of the most competitive and vibrant youth soccer markets anywhere in North America.”
Leading the charge in that respect is Charlotte Soccer Academy, whose programs serve youth players from all backgrounds across the city.
“Soccer gives kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds a realistic and attainable goal that they’re able to get excited about, and feel part of every single week,” CSA coach Kevin Summers said.
“Watching professional games live and in-the-flesh is a luxury most Charlotte kids have never been able to afford, but is invaluable for development.”
CSA has sent its graduates to a host of MLS teams, including the Philadelphia Union, LA Galaxy and Sporting Kansas City. Now, current prospects could provide a talent pool for the professional team in the city in which they were born and raised.
Those young players are already fluent in the world’s most widely spoken language. In the coming months, the entire city will start speaking soccer with them.