A new professional soccer team is coming to the Tri-state area, and it’s just a Metro North ride away from the city. On Tuesday, MLS NEXT Pro announced a new expansion team for Bridgeport, Connecticut: CT United FC, which is unaffiliated with a Major League Soccer team, is the fifth independent club to join MLS NEXT Pro.
MLS NEXT Pro comes to the Nutmeg State
The team is owned by Connecticut Sports Group, led by local businessman André Swanston, and has a planned start date of 2025. Currently, it is slated to be the only non-MLS-owned team in the league to compete in the northeast. The announcement on Tuesday included words from Bridgeport mayor Joe Ganim, MLSNP President Charles Altchek, and Swanston.
“As CT United FC embarks on its MLS NEXT Pro journey, I want to extend deep gratitude to the incredible fans, community leaders, and government officials who have embraced our vision. I am confident that, united, Connecticut can compete against anyone,” said André Swanston, Founding Partner of CTSG in a press release. “We are committed to building the infrastructure – from a free youth academy to a state-of-the-art stadium – needed to propel Connecticut to the highest levels of soccer.”
Next Pro is a professionally sanctioned third-division league on the US Soccer pyramid. It is the same level as USL League One and the National Independent Soccer Association, and two levels below Major League Soccer. Mainly acting as a reserve league for MLS teams, the majority of members consist of teams such as NYCFC II. However, the league also allows independent, non-affiliated clubs, such as Bridgeport, to join. Currently, that includes teams such as Chattanooga FC and Carolina Core FC. Previously, Rochester New York FC participated in the league, but the club has since folded.
Swanston to create local soccer ecosystem
Years prior to this both Swanston and his wife had the opportunity to become investors in Real Salt Lake. During the press conference, André credited his wife for questioning why they should put their money into something across the country instead of building something within their own community.
In October 2023, Swanston publicly announced an effort to bring both MLS and National Women’s Soccer League teams to Bridgeport, CT. The initiative, titled “Let CT In”, included plans for a new stadium and development adjacent to it including housing and stores. The plans also included attempting to get an MLS NEXT Pro team to the state as a “shorter-term goal.”
Another goal was the development of a youth academy. During the press conference on Tuesday, Swanston announced plans for this with it being free of charge.
In late November the Bridgeport Planning & Zoning Commission granted “conceptual approval” for a planned sports district. The area, called a “live, work, play destination,” includes plans for a new soccer stadium on the site of a former dog racing track.
Tuesday’s press conference included illustrations and plans for the development, including a stadium with a capacity between 7,500 and 10k along the city’s waterfront. Mayor Ganim said an announcement regarding the site development should be coming next week.
Swanston didn’t waiver on bringing top-flight soccer to the state, whether that be in MLS or NWSL. While the Bronx native didn’t make any guarantees, he promised to continue bringing soccer infrastructure to the area. He concluded with a second rendering video of an expanded stadium that he hopes can house a top-division team in the future.
About that name
Of note, the team shares a name with a short-lived professional team from the ill-fated American Soccer League of the 2010s. That CT United FC team played one season in 2016 and was rumored to be joining third division NISA in 2019. However, that never came to pass and NISA’s planned Connecticut expansion was abandoned. It is unclear if there are any ties between these two teams.
Connecticut is the latest New England state to recently announce a lower-division professional soccer team. In September 2023, USL announced a group from Portland, Maine had been awarded an expansion franchise with a planned kickoff in 2025. Likewise, Rhode Island FC will debut in the second division USL Championship in a couple of months. Connecticut also already has a team, Hartford Athletic, which also competes in USLC.
More locally, Brooklyn Football Club was announced last year and plans to kick off in USL1 for the 2025 season.