Carolina Railhawks look to join MLS

Colin Meagher, Staff Writer

The Carolina Railhawks, North Carolina’s semi-professional soccer team, are looking to join Major League Soccer (MLS) and be a part of the most competitive soccer league in America.

The Railhawks currently play in the North American Soccer League (NASL) and have been successful in the league for the past couple of years. They were at the top of the league in 2011 and finished second place in the 2013 season this past spring.

The Railhawks have the skill to perform well in the MLS based on past results against teams from the MLS. This past season, the Railhawks beat two California MLS teams in the U.S. Open Cup. They played Chivas USA, winning 3-1 and beat the Los Angeles Galaxy 2-0.

Soccer is a growing sport in America and in the Triangle, especially for the youth. Chapel Hill and Raleigh are two cities that are growing in number of soccer fanatics. Many believe bringing the MLS to North Carolina will be big for the fans and they will get to see popular soccer players that play on other MLS teams.

“It would bring a lot more attention to soccer,” said Brendan Weiss, a sophomore soccer player at Athens Drive. Weiss plays for a soccer club called My Soccer Fitness (MSF), which is a new youth soccer club that was put together two years ago.

The MLS committee needs to see an established fan base for the Railhawks in order to get promoted. Having a strong fan base is a requirement for teams in the MLS. The growing population of youth soccer fans will be good for the Railhawks and will increase their chances of being promoted to the MLS.

The stadium where the Railhawks play at, WakeMed Soccer Stadium in Cary, has been upgraded to a size that can support an MLS team. Before the expansions were built this past summer, the stadium could only hold 7,000 spectators. Now, 15,000 fans can cheer on the Railhawks.

The stadium expansions were placed on the east and north sides of the stadium. Before the changes were made, there was grass on the north side of the stadium behind one of the goals. The entire grass area on the north side has now been replaced with stands for more spectators.

On the east side of the stadium, stands were added above the original seats that were already in place. The new set of stands is called the CASL Tower and it is the highest point in the stadium.

CASL, Capital Area Soccer League, is a youth soccer program that is a sponsor of the Railhawks and is the second biggest youth soccer league in the country. Because of the money that CASL has provided for the stadium upgrade, the Railhawks named the new stands after them.

The WakeMed Soccer Stadium also hosts the men’s and women’s Athletic Coast Conference (ACC) finals and will regularly host the NCAA soccer finals as well. With a bigger stadium, the ACC finals can be watched by more fans. This is good for local fans because four North Carolina schools are in the ACC.

Now that the stadium has been expanded into a suitable size for an MLS team, the Railhawks promotion will be decided by the board of the MLS. Until the MLS allow the Railhawks the be promoted into the league, they will continue their seasons in the NASL.