For the first time in club history, the Carolina RailHawks team is set to face a club from the English Premier League in West Ham United.
West Ham has won three Football Association Cup titles in club history, most recently being runner-ups in 2006.
The “Hammers” announced a stateside tour that will include a trip to Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders on July 5 and end with a visit to WakeMed Soccer Park on Tuesday, July 12.
West Ham vice chairman Karren Brady said in a club statement that “through tours like this, we can give our overseas supporters a chance to see their heroes in the flesh, and win over even more new fans for the future.”
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The RailHawks have hosted numerous international friendlies in the past with teams from top-flight leagues such as Korea and Mexico, but playing a team from England is unprecedented competition from matches of the past.
In the 2015-16 rankings, the Union of European Football Associations listed the English Premier League as the third best league in its rankings out of 54 leagues.
With one game remaining in the Premier League season, the Hammers are one point behind traditional powerhouse Manchester United for fifth place, making fans eager to see the RailHawks play high-level competition.
“It’s exciting when we get to play teams at a higher level than we are,” said Triangle Soccer Fanatics founder Jarrett Campbell. “It’s a barometer of how we stack up against other competition.”
The RailHawks’ U-23s, coached by Dewan Bader, defeated English side Burnley 2-1 in 2008.
No matter the result, it’s likely the team will draw high attendance. In March, the RailHawks set a club record of 9,032 fans at WakeMed Soccer Park when the team played Deportivo Toluca FC, even though the RailHawks lost 3-0.
The match is in the middle of the RailHawks’ season – three days after Carolina hosts Tampa Bay and four days preceding a trip to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
West Ham announced it will release further details of the Hammers’ travel information to Cary in the coming days and weeks.
Coach Slaven Bilic said in the same statement that he is looking forward to playing competitive matches to keep his squad’s skills up, likely in preparation for possible Europe League play.
“The main purposes of pre-season are to build up the players’ fitness and sharpness while training and playing competitive matches. This tour will help us to do that, and we are very much looking forward to it,” he said.
The game is at 8 p.m. For ticket information, go to carolinarailhawks.com/WestHam.