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North Carolina FC returning to USL Championship

North Carolina FC head coach John Bradford, left, club president Francie Gottsegen, right, and NCFC majority owner Steve Malik, joining virtually, speak about the club’s return to the USL Championship at a press conference on Monday, Aug. 7. Nicholas Schnittker | Wake Weekly

CARY — After three seasons in USL League One, North Carolina FC is moving back up to the USL Championship starting in the 2024 season, the club announced on Monday, August 7.

In the American soccer league system, which is overseen and sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation, USL League is one of three Division III leagues, while the USL Championship is the lone sanctioned Division II league in the country.

“These players deserve to continue to grow their career and we want to give them that opportunity,” NCFC majority owner Steve Malik said. “Our community is a championship-quality market and we are looking forward to playing next year at a higher level.”

NCFC initially made the move from the Championship to League One ahead of the 2021 season, with the stated reason for the move being to focus more heavily on youth development and providing young players with opportunities and minutes at the professional level.

During the last three seasons, the club has made good on that goal with multiple academy players, such as Nick Holliday and Cole Frame, not only signing professional deals with the club, but shining at the professional level.

Head coach John Bradford said the team will continue to support the academy and give opportunities to those types of players, while also working to become a destination for young players from all over the soccer world.

“I think knowing our place for youth players is extremely important, as a developer versus an end destination,” Bradford said. “That will be a continued focus for us.”

Club president Francie Gottsegen said that since the COVID-19 pandemic, the club has worked to rebuild the infrastructure of the club to better support its teams. That rebuild has included multiple additions to the club’s front office, including Gottsegen herself, who was hired in January 2022.

“We are at a point where we have a great framework in place to support a championship club, in addition to continuing to support the Courage, and we plan to continue to build on that framework so we can continually improve the experience, both for our fans as well as our players,” Gottsegen said.

While there are still over three months to go, 2023 has all the indications of being a banner year for the club both on and off the field.

NCFC and the NC Courage are at the top of the their respective league tables, the NC Courage u23 squad reach the finals of the USL W-League the summer, the Courage recently announced a substantial equity raise and six new minority investors are set to join the ownership group pending league approval, and now the men’s professional side is set to return to the second tier of American professional soccer, just to name a few of the recent headlines surrounding the club.

“We’re in growth mode,” Gottsegen said. “It’s a really exciting time for the club. … We plan to continue to build upon that. There’s a lot of momentum, not just with the club, but with soccer in general and we plan to continue to ride that wave.”

The USL Championship includes teams from all across the country, with the closest to NCFC being Louisville City FC, Loudoun United FC, and Charleston Battery.

With the team sitting at the top of the table, Bradford is excited for the future but also wants to focus on finishing the season strongly.

“We certainly don’t want to lose sight of where we are right now in terms of League One and finishing off this season extremely well,” he said.