Wilmington’s Wait for Pro Soccer Continues as USL Team Launch Postponed

Wilmington’s Wait for Pro Soccer Continues as USL Team Launch Postponed

Wilmington sports fans will be required to patiently await the reinstatement of professional soccer in Port City. The reinstatement of Wilmington’s first professional soccer team since the Hammerheads’ final professional match in 2016 has been canceled, with the exact time of their return uncertain.

The proposal put forth by a group known as USL to Wilmington in 2022 to reintroduce a professional soccer team to Wilmington generated considerable interest. Wilmington is widely recognized as a soccer community characterized by robust juvenile organizations, formidable collegiate squads, and devoted supporters. “However, something has been missing in recent years,” stated Dewan Bader, then-sporting director of USL to Wilmington, in a press release from 2022.

The Wilmington Hammerheads, established in 1996, were the inaugural and sole professional soccer club in the city. They performed in front of sizable audiences at Legion Stadium for years before relegating themselves to the amateur Premiere Development League after the 2016 season; the league ceased operations the following year.

The presentation of strategies to relocate a USL League One team to Wilmington occurred in 2022. In the United States, USL League One represents the third division of professional soccer. It is situated in the lower tier, directly beneath Major Competition Soccer, the preeminent professional competition in the country.

In 2022, USL Wilmington established a two-year schedule to field a team that would be competitive by 2024. Legion Stadium was to be leased for a duration of two to three years, pending the establishment of the organization’s facilities, as per the proposed plans.

Chris Mumford, a former investment banker and professor at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and managing partner of the group, petitioned the Wilmington City Council for authorization to lease Legion Stadium on March 20, 2023.

Nevertheless, USL Wilmington announced via its social media platforms on May 31, 2023, that it would not have a team prepared to compete in 2024. “The USL to Wilmington Project has determined, after careful consideration, that additional time is required to finalize a temporary playing venue and secure financing from local investors,” the post states.

The group’s funding suffered a significant setback when a primary investor withdrew, as reported by Bader. “There was a massive setback in what we were trying to do (With USL to Wilmington),” according to him.

Uncertain as to how a new group of investors will bring professional soccer to Wilmington, Bader maintains optimism regarding the matter. In the beginning, there are currently discussions regarding the formation of new divisions. “We are hoping to announce in the next month or so a core group of investors.,” he indicated. “With all of this going on, with new investors, we’re going to have to decide what league is most appropriate.”

USL League One and the USL Championship (both in the second tier) are viable alternatives to MLS Next Pro (Third tier) and USL League One. The same plans remain in place, should a new group arise, which include the construction of a food hall and the probable allocation of several years at Legion Stadium.

The future of professional soccer in Wilmington is currently uncertain; however, supporters ought not to lose hope.

“We have a group that is invested and very much wants to see a pro soccer team in Wilmington, North Carolina, but we’re still looking for more investments and we still need to navigate which league would be appropriate,” according to Bader.

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