Charlotte FC on Wednesday announced its plans to host English Premier League side Chelsea FC in a summer friendly.
As previously reported, the match is set to take place July 20 at Bank of America Stadium in Uptown Charlotte, where the Major League Soccer expansion team plays its home games.
The competition will pit a new American soccer team against the six-time English champions in what has been unofficially deemed the “Battle of the Blues.”
“I think playing at home, I think this team as it is now, should not fear anybody and we should play against everybody to win,” Charlotte FC sporting director Zoran Krneta said Wednesday afternoon. “I said this at the beginning of the season, I’ll say this now and I’ll say this at the end of the season: This team is built to play to win.”
Here’s what else to know.
Chelsea FC quick facts
Chelsea is one of the world’s most renowned soccer clubs, with six championships at the highest level of English football. Five of those titles were won between 2005 and 2017.
The franchise has made recent headlines due to its ownership situation, in which a sale is underway to transition control by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich to a consortium led by American billionaire Todd Boehly. The British government sanctioned Abramovich for his ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, forcing the sale.
Krneta said that he doesn’t expect Chelsea’s ownership situation to change the announced friendly plans, saying that Charlotte FC feels “pretty confident that this is going to go ahead.”
Chelsea won its second Champions League title last year and is an eight-time winner of the FA Cup. It recently finished as runner-up to Liverpool in this year’s competition.
Charlotte FC vs. Chelsea FC disparity
For American soccer fans, the Chelsea roster is headlined by U.S. men’s national team phenom Christian Pulisic, and the Charlotte match could feature other global stars expected to play in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar such as N’Golo Kante (France), Thiago Silva (Brazil), Mason Mount (England) and Edouard Mendy (Senegal), who are all on Chelsea’s roster.
Charlotte FC, by contrast, is a burgeoning MLS club in the midst of its first-ever season. It’s one of the lowest-spending teams in the league when it comes to player salaries, according to data released Tuesday by the MLS Players Association. Charlotte FC’s roster includes young American talents, such as midfielders Ben Bender and Chris Hegardt, as well as goalkeeper George Marks, that Krneta said he would like to see get minutes during the friendly. He also defended Charlotte FC’s spending on talent, calling the salary comparisons “a little bit misleading.”
“If you take into consideration the total spend, which is the acquisition costs and the salaries, we are seventh on the list of total spend in the league. I think this is a more accurate description if you want to compare,” Krneta said.
Charlotte FC’s roster is heavy in international players and not all of their acquisition costs are known.
“Second, we’ve done a lot of data analytics and (haven’t) been able to find the correlation between big salaries and success, and I still don’t see it,” Krneta said.
There’s disparity between the two teams, but the friendly is part of Chelsea’s U.S. summer tour in which it will play other stateside matches against Mexico’s Club America and England’s Arsenal FC for additional competition. For Charlotte FC, it’s a chance to pit its roster against one of the world’s best, and to host a globally known opponent in front of its ardent fanbase.
History of Chelsea FC in Charlotte
It won’t be the first time Chelsea plays in the Queen City. Bank of America Stadium, upgraded for soccer and entertainment events earlier this year, has hosted many international soccer competitions. It hosted games for the International Champions Cup (ICC) between 2014 and 2019, excluding 2017.
In 2015, Chelsea visited Bank of America Stadium for an ICC match in which it beat Paris-Saint Germain 6-5 off penalty kicks. The venue today has the capacity to host roughly 75,000 fans.
Charlotte FC plays on a turf field at the bowl shared with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, but as first reported by the Charlotte Business Journal, Charlotte FC ownership group Tepper Sports & Entertainment has committed to installing a natural grass field on top of its turf surface for the Chelsea-Charlotte match.
“I think our turf is great,” Krneta said. “I think for this particular game, we will probably switch to grass and then switch back to turf, and it’s something that happened before and will happen in the future. So I think I just see one of these things when we have to do it because we wanted to bring someone of a Chelsea stature in front of our fans and to Carolinas.”
In March, Charlotte FC hosted the LA Galaxy for its inaugural MLS home match in front of a crowd of 74,479 fans to set a single-match league attendance record. Charlotte has since played in front of smaller crowds at home that shade closer to 30,000 fans, with the upper-level seating in the stadium closed off for its league matches. For the Chelsea friendly, the upper-bowl will be open.
Tickets for the July 20 friendly between Charlotte and Chelsea go on sale to the public at 10 a.m. May 25 following an exclusive discounted pre-sale for Charlotte FC season-ticket members that opens at 10 a.m. Thursday.
The start time for the match and broadcast details have not been announced, but the contest is expected to take place in the evening.