Rejoice, footie fans! Cleveland is getting a professional soccer team.
Timed up with the United States first World Cup game of 2022, the Cleveland Soccer Group and MLS Next Pro announced its intentions to bring a professional soccer team to Northeast Ohio at an event at Pinstripes Mechanical Bowling in Ohio City. The name, mascot and home location have not yet been announced. The games are slated to air on Apple TV as part of an exclusive broadcast deal with the MLS.
“MLS NEXT Pro was built to include strong independent clubs playing to win championships while serving their communities and entertaining their fans. Cleveland’s Club will be capable of that and more," said Charles Altcheck, president of MLS Next Pro, in a press release. "The pride and passion Clevelanders have for their teams speaks for itself and we look forward to the fans embracing the sport of soccer."
MLS Next Pro is a developmental league that started in 2021 and completed its inaugural season last month. While 20 of the teams are affiliated with existing MLS teams, such as Columbus Crew's Columbus Crew 2, Cleveland will be among the first independent clubs. In 2024, the league is adding its first two independent clubs, Rochester New York FC and Carolina Core FC. Cleveland will be the third.
Another third — Cleveland will be the third team in Ohio, joining Columbus and FC Cincinnati 2.
A few locals played an important hand in brining soccer to Northeast Ohio, including the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission's David Gilbert. Another is Justin Morrow, a Cleveland-native and alum of St. Ignatius High School. He was named the MLS' Humanitarian of the Year in 2020 for founding Black Players for Change, a group of players, coaches and staff who work to fight for racial equality.
“Like most Clevelanders, my affinity for the city runs deep, and I’m committed to partnering with leaders like Michael and Nolan to have a positive impact,” Morrow said in the press release. “Having devoted most of my life to the game, I know that if we bring professional soccer to Cleveland with a ‘community-first’ mindset, it will bring about many positive changes to the region.”
Cleveland Soccer Group, a new 501(c)(3) organization working to expand the sport locally, plans to host "listening sessions" over the first half of 2023 so locals can help shape the new team's impact in Cleveland.
"‘The beautiful game’ will bring Clevelanders together like never before,” said Altcheck.