HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Huntsville, meet your new professional soccer team: Huntsville City Football Club.
The team name, logo color scheme and merchandise were introduced to the public Wednesday during an unveiling event at Mars Music Hall. H.C.F.C. will compete in Major League Soccer’s (MLS) NEXT Pro league, a minor league system under the auspices of MLS parent club Nashville Soccer Club.
Soccer fans, youth players wearing their jerseys and families gathered to hear from team and league officials in an event open to the public.
A few hundred gathered in the venue and let out cheers as the team’s circle shield containing the block letters “HCFC” appeared in a space launch-themed hype video.
It is the ceremonial beginning of professional soccer in Rocket City.
H.C.F.C. and Nashville S.C. CEO Ian Ayre reflected how unique it is for those gathered to be part of their team’s inception.
“My team growing up was Liverpool, and you know they were founded almost 130 years ago and to be able to say that you were in the room when the team really started, when the name was first chosen, you’re all part of that history today,” said Ayre.
The history to be made is one of seizing opportunities, says team owner John Ingram.
“When Huntsville first kind of got on our radar and we needed to develop an MLS NEXT Pro team, we were looking around and thinking about what we would do, it was like ‘Oh my god, Huntsville’s perfect,’” he said. “It’s relatively close to Nashville … it’s such a fantastically interesting, I mean, a great city.”
As for customers, it makes sense, too.
“Highly educated, lots of engineers, lots of people who are typically our demographic - soccer demographic,” he said.
From commercial to competitive elements, there’s a shared vision with the league, team and city. Included in that vision is the opportunity to streamline amateur talent into the professional ranks, all the while growing interest and participation in soccer at all levels.
“What I think is incredible about this type of team in this league is that as fans, you're going to get to see almost all of the journey of a player in their career,” said Ayre. “You'll see young kids, you know, tens (10-year olds) upwards going into that youth academy development system and from that system coming into NEXT Pro and then going all the way on that journey until they ultimately, pull in a jersey on to play professional soccer in Huntsville and then hopefully pulling it on for Nashville.”
From the league’s perspective, integrating the player and fanbase in areas like North Alabama is essential for the general health of the sport.
“As we look ahead to 2026, the goal is for there to be a player from Huntsville on the field in the World Cup playing for the U.S. or for another country,” said Charles Altcheck, MLS NEXT Pro league president. “We're going to have players from all over the world playing in MLS NEXT Pro. We had players from 81 countries represented in our first season in 2022.
The league can provide support and direction, but the plan is conceptualized and executed by the franchise. After having built a first-of-its-kind team in its resident city, the Nashville S.C. ownership group is applying that strategy to the development ranks here in Huntsville.
“All I can say is we use the same process that we used in Nashville, where we want to be authentic,” said Ingram. “We want it to feel like it's real and not something that's made up that doesn't fit.”
From the looks of the logo to community involvement to the place the team plays in, there’s supposed to be intentionality. It might already be paying dividends.
“I think it's going to be exciting,” said Nico Pacheco is a nine-year old from Mill Creek Elementary. “I'm ready to go to the games.”
While he has until next spring before he can get to any games in person, Pacheco will have plenty of soccer to play in the meantime. He plays travel ball under former Jamaican national teamer Norbert Webley at NOW FC in Huntsville. And Nico can’t escape the sport when he gets home, either. Nico’s father, Victor, is an assistant coach at Bob Jones High School. For a household of futbol fans, the arrival of a professional team is “super exciting.”
“It's a great environment for those of us who have been driving to Nashville over the last couple of years to go watch Nashville S.C., having a team here is super exciting,” said the elder Pacheco.
It’s one thing to see the superstars like newly-minted MLS Most Valuable Player Hany Mukhtar suit up in the top tier of the sport in America. There’s something to be said for the fact that H.C.F.C. is a developmental team in nature, says Bob Jones head coach Mark Parker.
“I think it means a great deal for the youth to be able to have that mentor, that person they look up to,” he said. “To be able to see them live and in person and make that connection; it's one thing to see them on TV, but when you get to come and support them, see them, hear them, the players will interact with them after games, I think it's going to be invaluable for the players to just have that connection. Locally.”
In a way, it also validates their work as coaches.
“It talks right into the pyramid that we talk about frequently, even in the club level and in the high school level, working your way up from second team to first team, having that to look forward to in the development that goes on there at the different stages and phases of the game,” Parker added. “I think it's going to be great for them to be able to see.”
Victor Pacheco shares Parker’s sentiment.
“As a father and as a player, myself, and as a coach, it is exciting to show the kids that's where you can be if you work hard and dedicate yourself to soccer.”