United Soccer League

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The United Soccer League (USL ), formerly known as USL Pro, is a professional men's soccer league in the United States and Canada that began its inaugural season in 2011. USL is sanctioned as a Division II Professional League by the United States Soccer Federation (U.S. Soccer), placing it under Major League Soccer (Division I) in the hierarchy. [105] The USL is headquartered in Tampa. [106]

The league is owned and operated by United Soccer Leagues and was formed as result of the merger of their USL First (USL-1) and Second Divisions (USL-2), following the controversial 2010 season which saw neither the USL-1 nor the North American Soccer League (NASL) receive Division II sanctioning from the USSF, resulting in the temporary USSF Division 2 Pro League. United Soccer Leagues stated that the merger would strengthen the league's position within the American professional soccer landscape through stability, commercial growth and the professional development of soccer in four main regions throughout the United States and Canada. [37]

In January 2013, United Soccer Leagues and MLS reached an agreement to integrate the USL league competition with the MLS Reserve League, primarily to improve player development in North America, strengthen league competition and build ties between leagues in the American soccer pyramid. This multi-year deal encourages MLS and USL Pro team affiliations and player loans, aiming to have more games for teams and developing players. [38] [7] As of March 2017, 22 USL teams are affiliated to MLS teams and every MLS team but Minnesota United FC has a USL affiliation.

History

Founding (2010)

On September 8, 2010, the United Soccer Leagues formally announced the creation of USL Pro in a press release. [37] Prior to the official announcement of the new league, on August 11, 2010, the Dayton Dutch Lions FC revealed they would be joining the "USL-Pro Championship Division (former USL-2)" at a press conference, revealing the name of the new league before its official announcement. [16] With this disclosure, the Dutch Lions were the first confirmed team in USL Pro for its inaugural 2011 season. Alongside the announcement of the new league, the Richmond Kickers revealed they would be moving to USL Pro for 2011. [17] With the departure of the Portland Timbers to MLS in 2011 and the defection of the Puerto Rico Islanders to the NASL [18] from USL-1, the Austin Aztex were the only remaining USL-1 team not yet a part of USL Pro.

On September 22, 2010, the "Caribbean Division" of USL Pro was announced, with teams from Puerto Rico and Antigua and Barbuda signing on to compete in the league. [6] With the addition of Puerto Rico United to the league and "Caribbean Division", league representatives expressed their intent to see expansion in the region continue, with an eventual 8-team "Caribbean Conference". [20] With the inclusion of a team from Los Angeles, this division eventually became the International Division. On September 22, 2010, USL announced that Sevilla FC Puerto Rico and River Plate Puerto Rico would be joining USL Pro in 2011 alongside Antigua Barracuda FC as part of the building blocks of a Caribbean division. [6] On September 28, 2010, USL announced that one of their flagship clubs and reigning 2010 USL-2 Champions, the Charleston Battery, would be joining USL Pro for its launch in 2011. [21] On September 30, 2010, nearly two months following the team's own announcement of a "USL Pro Championship Division" move, the USL formally announced Dayton Dutch Lions FC would join USL Pro. [3] On October 4 and 7, 2010, the USL revealed two USL-2 clubs, the Charlotte Eagles and the Harrisburg City Islanders, would be making the jump to USL Pro for 2011. [23] [24]

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds were added as the 9th official team on October 22, 2010. [25] October 25, 2010 saw the addition of the Rochester Rhinos [37] who had previously committed to the NASL, along with expansion team Orlando City SC (formerly the Austin Aztex FC of USL-1) after new ownership secured and moved the team from Texas to Florida. [8]

On November 9, 2010, former USL-2 side Wilmington Hammerheads officially joined the league as the 12th team, [9] followed on November 17, 2010 by F.C. New York. [28] The expected number of teams to launch league play in 2011 was announced as 18–20, alongside the announcement of the Wilmington Hammerheads joining the league. [9]

The Los Angeles Blues, associated with the successful women's Pali Blues organization, were added on December 7, 2010 with a message of future "Western Conference" growth into 2012. [106] The "Caribbean Division" of USL Pro grew to four teams on December 9, 2010 with the addition of Puerto Rico United to the league, [20] marking the last of the 15 teams that would compete in USL Pro in its inaugural 2011 season.

On September 14, 2010, United Soccer Leagues President Tim Holt expressed the desired structure for the league to launch with 14–18 teams across 4 specific geographic areas in 2011, expansion to 22–26 teams by 2013, and 28–32 teams by 2015. [106]

Following USL Pro's first annual general meeting, the league confirmed it would debut with 16 teams playing a 24-game regular season schedule in 2011, with planned growth for 20–24 teams to start the 2012 season. [31]

Play begins (2011–2012)

USL Pro debuted in 2011, starting with 15 teams playing a 24-game regular season schedule. American and National Division teams played a home-and-away series against all opponents from the two divisions (totaling 18 games), 2 additional regional rivalry matches, with each team making an additional trip to either Los Angeles or the Caribbean to play two games while hosting International Division competition for two games. International Division teams played each team in their division four times (twice home, twice away, totaling 16 games) while traveling to face American or National Division opponents in four games and hosting those opponents for four games. [31] [106] [106]

The original playoff format saw eight teams compete in a one-game quarterfinal. Both the American and National Divisions saw their top three teams advance for an inter-divisional playoff, while the top 2 teams in the International Division played-off against each other to reach the semi-finals. The four remaining teams were re-seeded for a single semi-final match, again with the higher seed hosting, leading up to a single match for the USL Pro Championship. In all playoff matches the highest seeded team hosted. [106]

On May 10, 2011, early in the league's inaugural season, the league announced that it was dropping the three Puerto Rican clubs from the USL Pro schedule. [2] The PRSL clubs were dropped due to economic and ownership issues. [2] The two remaining International Division teams – Antigua Barracuda FC and Los Angeles Blues – were re-aligned into the American and National Divisions. Due to the removal of the International Division, the revised playoff format featured the top four teams in each of the two divisions. The two division playoff winners met in the USL Pro Championship at the home venue of the team with the better record.

Following the 2011 season, USL Pro announced with the release of the 2012 season schedule that F.C. New York would not be returning to play, with the former National and American Divisions being dissolved to form a single, eleven team league table. [106] With F.C. New York withdrawing in January 2012, the league announced an eleven team single-table schedule for the 2012 season. [106]

Beginnings of MLS partnership (2013–2014)

Two expansion teams joined for the 2013 season: Phoenix FC [106] [106] and the VSI Tampa Bay FC. [2]

On January 23, 2013 United Soccer Leagues and MLS announced a multi-year agreement to integrate MLS Reserve League play with USL Pro teams, first through team affiliations and "interleague" play, but eventually fully merging MLS Reserves into the USL Pro structure. The stated goals [38] of this partnership are to improve North American player development, strengthen league competition, build long-term ties between the leagues and expand the audience for both the leagues and developing players.

While the 2013 season would feature partnered competitions between USL Pro and MLS Reserve teams, four Major League Soccer clubs opted to affiliate with an existing USL Pro team, agreeing to loan at least four MLS players to their affiliate: Sporting Kansas City with Orlando City, the Philadelphia Union with the Harrisburg City Islanders, D.C. United with the Richmond Kickers and the New England Revolution with the Rochester Rhinos. Each MLS club will eventually be expected to either affiliate with a USL Pro team or operate an independent reserve team in the league. [38] [7] The Houston Dynamo announced that they will be partnering with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in 2014. [41] However, this partnership between the Riverhounds and Dynamo was dissolved after just one year. [76] Following the conclusion of the 2013 season, VSI Tampa Bay folded after only one season, along with founding league member Antigua. [7]

In December 2012, Sacramento announced it would begin play in 2014 as an expansion team, [2] and in July 2014, USL announced that Oklahoma City would also join USL in 2014. [2] Orlando City announced that it would leave USL after the 2014 season to join MLS as an expansion team for the 2015 season. [55] [47] [48] The Los Angeles Blues were rebranded as Orange County Blues FC on February 5, 2014. [49] The Phoenix FC franchise was revoked and replaced with Arizona United SC on March 13, 2014. [28]

In what would become a major trend, on January 29, 2014, the LA Galaxy announced the creation of LA Galaxy II, a reserve team within the club's existing development structure. The Galaxy purchased a USL Pro expansion franchise [51] and became the first MLS club to enter its reserve team into the USL Pro.

Expansion of MLS partnership and rebranding (2015–)

USL Pro nearly doubled the number of teams in the league for 2015 in large part due to MLS franchises following the path taken by the LA Galaxy II. Seven MLS clubs announced the purchase of a USL Pro franchise for their reserve team. These MLS franchises joined four independent expansion teams that were previously announced for Colorado Springs, St. Louis, Tulsa and Austin. Additionally, Orlando City sold its franchise rights to Louisville interests, which unveiled Louisville City FC on June 3, 2014 as an affiliate of the new MLS side. [52] The United Soccer Leagues announced that the Charlotte Eagles would drop to its Premier Development League (PDL) while selling their franchise rights to another Charlotte group, which formed Charlotte Independence for play beginning in 2015. [53] Finally, on December 11, 2014, the Dayton Dutch Lions self-relegated to play in the PDL starting in 2015. [54]

During 2014 and early 2015, the various MLS clubs in conjunction with the USL announced seven new franchises that would be owned or controlled by MLS team ownership, and would all begin play in 2015. On September 10, 2014, Real Salt Lake revealed the name of their previously announced USL Pro affiliate team would be Real Monarchs, and confirmed that the team would begin play in 2015. [3] [56] The team played at Rio Tinto Stadium until the 5,000-seat Zions Bank Stadium was built in Herriman, Utah. [57] Both the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC created their own USL Pro squads, Portland Timbers 2 and Seattle Sounders FC 2 on October 14, 2014. [6] The Montreal Impact announced that it would field a USL Pro team in September 2014. On November 18, 2014, FC Montréal officially joined the league. [4] [2] [3] On November 20, 2014, Toronto FC announced that it would also field a team, subsequently named Toronto FC II, for the 2015 season. [3] Whitecaps FC 2 joined USL Pro the next day. [2] After discussing plans for a USL Pro team in 2015, [64] then postponing those plans in September, [65] the New York Red Bulls announced that their USL Pro team, New York Red Bulls II would begin play in 2015. [66] [67]

MLS affiliations were announced for the remaining MLS teams that did not have an affiliation in 2014 and did not elect to purchase a USL Pro franchise. On September 18, 2014 the Colorado Rapids announced an affiliation partnership with the Charlotte Independence. [68] On January 16, 2015 New York City FC announced that it would have an affiliate relationship with the Wilmington Hammerheads [16] and the Chicago Fire announced their affiliation with St Louis. [16] On February 9, 2015, FC Dallas announced it would add Arizona United SC as its USL Pro affiliate. [16] [16] As a result, all 20 MLS teams for the 2015 season were either fielding their own team in the USL Pro or were affiliated with an independent USL Pro club.

The league also announced in 2015 that the league would be divided into two conferences. Teams would play a 28-game schedule with 22 games against all the teams in their conference, and the teams would be further assigned to four-club subdivisions for the other six games with an eye towards geographic rivalries between clubs. [13]

On February 10, 2015, United Soccer Leagues announced a branding change for the league. It would now be called the "United Soccer League" or "USL" for short. They introduced a new logo and branding, and stated their intention to apply for Division II status within the United States Soccer Federation hierarchy. [16]

On July 15, 2015, USL announced that the 25th franchise in the league was awarded to Lone Star, LLC and the team would be named Rio Grande Valley FC. Alec Papadakis, USL President stated that the club already had a "10,000-seat soccer-specific stadium" under construction. [74] In a first for the USL, the team will have a "hybrid" affiliation with the Houston Dynamo who would be responsible for the tactical part of the club, while the ownership group, Lone Star, would be responsible for operations and management. [2] [3]

On August 12, 2015, USL announced FC Cincinnati as the 26th franchise in the league. The ownership group would be led by Carl H. Lindner III of American Financial Group. Jeff Berding announced that John Harkes, who holds 90 caps with US National team and was an assistant coach with the New York Red Bulls, would be the head coach. [4]

On August 19, 2015, USL announced that the Philadelphia Union would operate the 27th team, the Bethlehem Steel FC in the Lehigh Valley area. [79] [5]

On September 16, 2015, the USL announced that they would expand to Reno, Nevada starting in 2017, with the Reno 1868 FC franchise, the league's 28th team. [17]

On October 15, 2015, the USL announced Orlando City B as the 29th team, which would be owned by Orlando City SC. [2]

On October 22, 2015, the USL announced Swope Park Rangers as the 30th team, which would be owned by Sporting Kansas City. [17]

On December 22, 2015, the USL announced that Spurs Sports & Entertainment would operated the leagues 31st team, San Antonio FC. [17]

The Austin Aztex announced that they would go on hiatus for the 2016 USL season on October 2, 2015. Floods damaging House Park midway through the 2015 season forced the team to relocate to a high school facility. The team was intended to return in 2017, pending construction of a new, soccer-specific stadium. [17] However, stadium and ownership issues continued to plague the franchise, and they did not return. [17]

On May 19, 2016, the USL awarded an expansion franchise to DMD Soccer, a Nashville-based ownership group, to own and operate Nashville SC, playing at First Tennessee Park in the 2018 season. [2] [109]

On October 25, 2016, the USL announced two teams would move from the North American Soccer League, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury FC. This was the first time a club moved from the NASL to the USL. [18]

On August 31, 2016, Kyle Eng sold his majority share of Arizona United SC to an investment group led by Berke Bakay. [18] The new ownership rebranded the team Phoenix Rising FC on November 28, 2016 and announced plans to build their own stadium. [18] [18]

On December 9, 2016, the Montreal Impact announced that it would fold its USL team, FC Montreal, in favor of affiliating with Ottawa Fury FC. [18]

On January 6, 2017, the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors voted to grant provisional Division II status to the USL for the 2017 season. [105]

On July 20, 2017, the USL awarded an expansion franchise to Las Vegas Soccer, LLC, a Las Vegas-based ownership group, which would allow a USL team to compete at Cashman Field beginning in 2018. [18] The name Las Vegas Lights FC was chosen by a poll of fans. [116] [117]

On July 26, 2017, the USL announced that they would expand to Fresno, California starting in 2018, with the Fresno FC franchise. [18]

The USL officially awarded two new franchises in August 2017. First, on August 8, an expansion franchise in Birmingham was announced. [119] The following day, a completely new franchise for Austin, replacing the Aztex, was announced. [120] Both new teams are set to start play in 2019.

In November 2017, the USL announced three new clubs for the 2018 season. Atlanta United FC announced that United would start fielding its own USL team in the 2018 season. The as-of-yet-unnamed team will play in suburban Gwinnett County. [121] North Carolina FC announced that it would be leaving the North American Soccer League to join the USL for the 2018 season. [122] Memphis was also awarded an expansion team. [123]

Clubs

Current clubs

The following teams are currently playing in the United Soccer League. [3] Eastern and Western conferences were created for 2015 season. [13]

Notes

  1. Shared facility; not a soccer-specific stadium
  2. Soccer specific stadium
  3. Baseball park
  4. Team has announced plans to move into a soccer-specific stadium

Expansion clubs

Former clubs

Clubs timeline

USL Memphis USL Birmingham USL Austin Las Vegas Lights FC Fresno FC Nashville SC Reno 1868 FC San Antonio FC Swope Park Rangers Bethlehem Steel FC (USL) FC Cincinnati Rio Grande Valley FC Whitecaps FC 2 Tulsa Roughnecks FC Toronto FC II Seattle Sounders FC 2 Saint Louis FC Real Monarchs Portland Timbers 2 New York Red Bulls II Louisville City FC FC Montreal Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC Austin Aztex Ottawa Fury FC Sacramento Republic FC Oklahoma City Energy FC LA Galaxy II VSI Tampa Bay FC Phoenix FC North Carolina FC Tampa Bay Rowdies Wilmington Hammerheads FC Rochester Rhinos Richmond Kickers Pittsburgh Riverhounds Orlando City B Orlando City SC (2010–14) F.C. New York Dayton Dutch Lions Charlotte Independence Charlotte Eagles Charleston Battery Antigua Barracuda FC

Current clubs Future clubs Club moved to MLS Club played in different League Former clubs

‡Puerto Rico Clubs Puerto Rico United, River Plate Puerto Rico, and Sevilla Puerto Rico began play in the league, but in May 2011 United Soccer Leagues announced that the teams would not finish the season due to financial difficulties. [93]

Competition format

USL Pro's scheduling format changed for the 2015 season to accommodate the expansion that took place during the 2014–2015 off-season, and the league's resulting need to divide teams into conferences – which eliminated the single table. [6] [7]

All teams played 28 regular-season matches stretching from March to September. This included a 22-game, double-round-robin schedule that pitted each team against all its conference opponents at home and on the road. The remaining six fixtures were played against regional rivals, which lead to some inter-conference regular season matches. The top six finishers in each conference went through to the October playoffs, which continued as a series of single-game knockout rounds. After three rounds of intra-conference play, the two conference champions met in the championship match, to be hosted by the team with the better regular-season record. [8] For 2016 season the season was extended to 30 games. [125]

Media coverage

The league featured national broadcast coverage on Fox Soccer Channel in 2011. [9] In 2014 and 2015, the league broadcast all matches on YouTube. [10] On April 22, 2016, the USL announced a partnership with ESPN, bringing 20 matches to ESPN 3 and the championship match to an ESPN network [125] The remainder of matches will continue to be broadcast on YouTube.

Champions

Team USL Cup Year(s) won Regular season title Year(s) won USL seasons
Orlando City 2 2011, 2013 3 2011, 2012, 2014 4
Rochester Rhinos 1 2015 1 2015 7
New York Red Bulls II 1 2016 1 2016 3
Charleston Battery 1 2012 __ 7
Sacramento Republic 1 2014 __ 4
Louisville City FC 1 2017 3
Richmond Kickers __ 1 2013 7
Real Monarchs __ 1 2017 3

USL Cup finals results

Season Champions Score Runners–up Venue Attendance MVP
2011 Orlando City † 2–2 † Harrisburg City Islanders Citrus Bowl 11,220 Sean Kelley (ORL)
2012 Charleston Battery 1–0 Wilmington Hammerheads Blackbaud Stadium 4,963 Jose Cuevas (CHB)
2013 Orlando City 7–4 Charlotte Eagles Citrus Bowl 20,886 Dom Dwyer (ORL)
2014 Sacramento Republic 2–0 Harrisburg City Islanders Bonney Field 8,000 Rodrigo López (SAC)
2015 Rochester Rhinos 2–1 * LA Galaxy II Sahlen’s Stadium 5,247 Asani Samuels (ROC)
2016 New York Red Bulls II 5–1 Swope Park Rangers Red Bull Arena 5,547 Brandon Allen (NYRB)
2017 Louisville City FC 1–0 Swope Park Rangers Louisville Slugger Field 14,456 Paolo DelPiccolo (LOU)
Key
Match decided by a penalty shootout after extra time
* Match decided in extra time

USL club honors

Current through completed 2017 USL Regular Season; Order based on major honors (championships).

Team Seasons USL Playoffs USL Regular Season Domestic (USOC, ACC, CFUCC) Total honors Major honors / Championships
Winner Runner-up Winner Runner-up Winner Furthest USL Entry
Orlando City SC 4 2 - 3 1 - 1 7 5
Rochester Rhinos 7 1 - 1 1 1 (pre-USL) 1 5 3
Richmond Kickers 7 - - 1 - 1 (pre-USL) 1 3 2
New York Red Bulls II 3 1 - 1 - - - 2 2
Louisville City FC 3 1 - - 3 - - 4 1
Sacramento Republic 4 1 - - 1 - - 2 1
Charleston Battery 7 1 - - - - - 1 1
Real Monarchs 3 - - 1 - - - 1 1
Harrisburg City Islanders 7 - 2 - - - 1 3 0
Wilmington Hammerheads 7 - 1 - 1 - 1 3 0
LA Galaxy II 4 - 1 - - - - 1 0
Charlotte Eagles 5 - 1 - - - - 1 0
Swope Park Rangers 2 - 2 - - - - 2 0
Charlotte Independence 3 - - - - - 1 1 0
FC Cincinnati 2 - - - - - 1 1 0

Player records

All-time top scorers in USL
Rank Player Goals
1 Dane Kelley 67
2 Chandler Hoffman 47
3 Jose Angulo 47
4 Matthew Delicate 39
5 Danny Konig 37
6 Enzo Martinez 29
7 Jack McBean 26
8 Nicki Paterson 25
9 Dennis Chin 24
10 Matthew Fondy 22
Most Appearances
Rank Player Goals
1 Luke Vercollone 176
2 William Yomby 176
3 Sascha Goerres 152
4 Tyler Rosenlund 122
5 Sterling Flunder 122

Attendance

Season Teams League Avg. Playoff Avg. Highest Teams Lowest Teams Ref
2011 12 2,274 5,555 5,330 (Orlando City) 4,927 (Rochester) 410 (Los Angeles Blues) 542 (Dayton) [94]
2012 11 2,777 4,252 6,606 (Orlando City) 6,265 (Rochester) 666 (Los Angeles Blues) 722 (Dayton) [21]
2013 13 2,611 6,989 8,056 (Orlando City) 5,898 (Rochester) 378 (VSI Tampa Bay) 718 (Los Angeles Blues) [21]
2014 14 3,114 5,397 11,293 (Sacramento) 5,329 (Rochester) 533 (Dayton) 597 (LA Galaxy II) [21]
2015 24 3,369 5,463 11,313 (Sacramento) 6,765 (Louisville City) 313 (FC Montréal) 479 (Toronto FC ll) [21]
2016 29 3,439 5,281 17,296 (FC Cincinnati) 11,514 (Sacramento) 243 (FC Montréal) 589 (New York Red Bulls II) [21]
2017 30 4,302 5,339 21,198 (FC Cincinnati) 11,569 (Sacramento) 632 (New York Red Bulls II) 869 (Vancouver Whitecaps 2)

FC Cincinnati played before a record crowd of 20,497 at Nippert Stadium on April 16, 2016 in a rivalry match against neighboring Louisville City FC. [21] This broke the USL Pro's previous record for attendance at a regular-season match of 20,231 set by Sacramento Republic in its home debut on April 26, 2014 at Hughes Stadium. [52] Cincinnati broke the record again on May 14, 2016, with a new all-time high of 23,375. [21] Cincinnati broke the single game attendance record again on October 2, 2016 in their first ever playoff match against the Charleston Battery, losing 2–1 in the quarterfinals of the 2016 USL playoffs. The attendance of 30,187 also set the USL playoff record. [21] Cincinnati broke the all time regular season record again on August 5, 2017 at Nippert Stadium, drawing 25,308 versus Orlando City B.

Staff

  • Rob Hoskins – chairman [21] [3]
  • Alec Papadakis – chief executive officer, managing partner
  • Jake Edwards – president
  • Justin Papadakis – chief operating officer
  • Tom Veit – executive vice president and chief revenue officer
  • Garrison Mason – vice president, general counsel
  • Brad Freeman – chief financial officer
  • Lizzie Seedhouse – director, digital media
  • Steven Short – vice president, division III
  • John Cochol – vice president, club services
  • Brett Luy – vice president, league operations
  • Gordon Bengtson – vice president, competition and technical development

See also

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