USL Pro

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USL PRO
USL Professional Logo.png
Country United States
Other club(s) from Canada
Confederation USSF
Founded September 8, 2010
Number of teams 24
Levels on pyramid 3 (US)
Promotion to None
Relegation to None
Domestic cup(s) Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup
Current champions Sacramento Republic
(2014)
Current shield Orlando City
(2014)
Most championships Orlando City (2 titles)
Most Supporters' Shields Orlando City (3 shields)
TV partners YouTube; NSCAA-TV
Website USL Pro website
2015 USL Pro season

The USL Professional Division, commonly known as USL Pro (stylized USL PRO), is a professional men's soccer league in the United States that began its inaugural season in 2011. USL Pro is sanctioned as a Division III Professional League by United States Soccer Federation (U.S. Soccer), placing it under Major League Soccer (Division I) and the North American Soccer League (Division II) in the hierarchy.

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

In January 2013, USL and MLS reached an agreement to integrate USL Pro league competition with the MLS Reserve League, primarily to improve player development in North America, strengthen league competition and build ties between divisions in the American soccer pyramid. This multi-year deal encourages MLS and USL Pro team affiliations and player loans, and it will lead to more games for teams and developing players.[2][3]

History[edit]

Founding (2010)[edit]

On September 8, 2010, USL formally announced the creation of USL Pro in a press release.[1] 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.[4] 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.[5] With the departure of the Portland Timbers to MLS in 2011 and the defection of the Puerto Rico Islanders to the NASL[6] from the USL First Division, the Austin Aztex were the lone First Division team left to fold into 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.[7] 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".[8] 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.[7] On September 28, 2010, USL announced that one of their flagship clubs and reigning 2010 USL Second Division Champions, the Charleston Battery, would be joining USL Pro for its launch in 2011.[9] 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.[10] On October 4 and 7, 2010, the USL revealed two Second Division clubs, the Charlotte Eagles and the Harrisburg City Islanders, would be making the jump to USL Pro for 2011.[11] [12]

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds were added as the 9th official team on October 22, 2010.[13] October 25, 2010 saw the addition of the Rochester Rhinos[14] who had previously committed to the NASL, along with expansion team Orlando City Soccer Club (formerly the Austin Aztex of USL First Division) after new ownership secured and moved the team from Texas to Florida.[15]

On November 9, 2010, former USL-2 Division side Wilmington Hammerheads officially joined the league as the 12th team,[16] followed on November 17, 2010 by F.C. New York.[16] 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.[16]

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.[17] The "Caribbean Division" of USL Pro grew to four teams on December 9, 2010 with the addition of Puerto Rico United to the league,[8] marking the last of the 15 teams that would compete in USL Pro in its inaugural 2011 season.

On September 14, 2010, USL 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.[18]

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.[19]

Play begins (2011–2012)[edit]

USL PRO Progression
Season Teams Added Lost
2011 15→12 Puerto Rico United
Sevilla FC P. Rico
River Plate P. Rico
2012 11 F.C. New York
2013 13 Phoenix FC
VSI Tampa Bay FC
2014 14 Arizona United SC acquired rights to the Phoenix FC franchise
Oklahoma City Energy FC
Sacramento Republic FC
Los Angeles Galaxy II
Antigua Barracuda
VSI Tampa Bay FC
2015 24 Louisville City purchased rights to Orlando City franchise
Charlotte Independence acquired rights to Charlotte Eagles franchise
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Saint Louis FC
FC Montréal
Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Austin Aztex
Real Monarchs
Portland Timbers 2
Toronto FC II
Seattle Sounders FC 2
Whitecaps FC 2
New York Red Bulls
Dayton Dutch Lions
2016 26
Houston Dynamo Reserves
FC Dallas Reserves

†Announced intentions but not officially announced. See planned teams.

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.[19][20][21]

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 semifinals. 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.[22]

On May 10, 2011, early in the league's inaugural season, the USL announced that it was dropping the three Puerto Rican clubs from the USL PRO schedule.[23] The PRSL clubs were dropped due to economic and ownership issues.[citation needed] 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. On May 10, 2011, the USL announced it formally removed the three Puerto Rico Soccer League (PRSL) teams from the 2011 USL PRO schedule due to severe economic difficulties and serious unforeseen medical situations involving owners from two of the three PRSL teams. The USL announced a revised schedule for USL PRO, with the Antigua Barracuda FC joining the American Division and the Los Angeles Blues joining the National Division as part of the adjusted divisional alignment resulting in two, six-team divisions.

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.[24] With F.C. New York withdrawing in January 2012, the league announced an eleven team single-table schedule for the 2012 season.[24]

Beginnings of MLS partnership (2013-2014)[edit]

Two expansion teams joined for the 2013 season: Phoenix FC[25][26] and the VSI Tampa Bay FC.[27]

On January 23, 2013 USL Pro 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 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.[citation needed]

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.[2][3] The Houston Dynamo announced that they will be partnering with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in 2014.[28] Following the conclusion of the 2013 season, VSI Tampa Bay folded after only one season, along with founding league member Antigua.[29]

In December 2012, Sacramento announced it would begin play in 2014 as an expansion team,[30] and in July 2014, USL announced that Oklahoma City would also join USL in 2014.[31] Orlando City Soccer Club announced that it would leave USL after the 2014 season to join MLS as an expansion team for the 2015 season.[32][33][34] The Los Angeles Blues were rebranded as Orange County Blues FC on February 5, 2014.[35] The Phoenix FC franchise was revoked and replaced with Arizona United SC on March 13, 2014.[36]

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[37] and became the first MLS club to enter its reserve team into the USL Pro.

Locations of announced teams for the 2015 USL PRO season. Blue markers indicate an MLS owned franchise and green a club without an MLS affiliation.

Rapid expansion of MLS partnership (2015)[edit]

Main article: 2015 USL Pro season

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 4 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.[38] and the USL announced that the Charlotte Eagles would drop to the Premier Development League (PDL) while selling their franchise rights to another Charlotte group which formed the Charlotte Independence for play beginning in 2015.[39] Finally, on December 11, 2014, the Dayton Dutch Lions self-relegated themselves to play in the PDL starting in 2015.[40]

During 2014 and early 2015, the various MLS clubs in conjunction with the USL announced seven new franchises that would be owned by (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 called Real Monarchs and confirmed that the team would begin play in 2015. A new stadium to be built at the Utah State Fairpark was announced with the team playing at Rio Tinto Stadium until it is built.[41][42] 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.[43] 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. [44][45][46] On November 20, 2014, Toronto FC announced that it would also field a team, subsequently named Toronto FC II, for the 2015 season.[47] Whitecaps FC 2 joined USL Pro the next day.[48] After discussing plans for a USL Pro team in 2015,[49] then postponing those plans in September,[50] the New York Red Bulls reversed themselves again and announced that their USL Pro team would begin play in 2015[51] although the name of the new club is yet to be announced.[52]

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.[53] On November 24, 2014, FC Dallas announced it would add Arizona United SC as it USL Pro affiliate.[54] On September 18, 2014 the Colorado Rapids announced an affiliation partnership with the Charlotte Independence.[55] On January 16, 2015 New York City FC announced that it would have an affiliate relationship with the Wilmington Hammerheads[56] and the Chicago Fire announced their affiliation with St Louis.[57] 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 USL also announced that the league would be divided into 2 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 a 4 club subdivisions for the other 6 games with an eye towards geographic rivalries between clubs.[58]

Planned teams[edit]

For 2016, the Houston Dynamo have announced their intentions to have a USL Pro team for that season.[59][60] FC Dallas also announced intentions to field a team in 2016 while signing an affiliate agreement for the 2015 season.[61]

Competition format[edit]

USL Pro's scheduling format has 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 has eliminated the single table.[62][63]

All teams will play 28 regular-season matches stretching from March to September. This will include a 22-game, double-round-robin schedule that will pit each team against all its conference opponents at home and on the road. The remaining six fixtures will be played against regional rivals, which will lead to some inter-conference regular season matches. The top six finishers in each conference will go through to the October playoffs, which will continue to be a series of single-game knockout rounds. After three rounds of intra-conference play, the two conference champions will meet in the championship match, to be hosted by the team with the better regular-season record.[64]

Media coverage[edit]

The league featured national broadcast coverage on Fox Soccer Channel in 2011.[16] In 2014, the league will broadcast all matches on YouTube.

Clubs[edit]

Current clubs[edit]

The following teams are currently playing in the USL Pro division.[65] Eastern and Western conferences were created for 2015 season.[58]

Club Timeline[edit]

Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 Tulsa Roughnecks Toronto FC II Seattle Sounders FC 2 St. Louis FC Real Monarchs Portland Timbers 2 New York Red Bulls USL Pro team FC Montréal Colorado Springs Switchbacks Austin Aztex Louisville City FC Charlotte Independence Sacramento Republic Oklahoma City Energy FC LA Galaxy II Arizona United VSI Tampa Bay Phoenix FC Wilmington Hammerheads Rochester Rhinos Richmond Kickers Pittsburgh Riverhounds Orlando City SC (2010–14) Orange County Blues Harrisburg City Islanders F.C. New York Dayton Dutch Lions Charlotte Eagles Charleston Battery Antigua Barracuda

Current clubs   Future clubs   Club moving to MLS   Club moving to PDL   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.[67]

Champions[edit]

USL Pro Championship logo
USL Pro Championship logo
USL Pro Trophy Winners
Season USL Pro
Championship Series
Commissioner's Cup
(Regular Season)
2011 Orlando City Orlando City
2012 Charleston Battery Orlando City
2013 Orlando City Richmond Kickers
2014 Sacramento Republic Orlando City

Results[edit]

Season Champions Score Runners–up Venue Attendance Notes
2011 Orlando City  †2–2 † Harrisburg City Islanders Citrus Bowl 11,220 Orlando won 3–2 on PSO
2012 Charleston Battery 1–0 Wilmington Hammerheads Blackbaud Stadium 4,963
2013 Orlando City 7–4 Charlotte Eagles Citrus Bowl 20,886 USL PRO attendance record
2014 Sacramento Republic 2–0 Harrisburg City Islanders Bonney Field 8,000
Key
Match decided by a penalty shootout after extra time

USL Pro Club Honors[edit]

Current through 2014 season; Order based on major honors (championships).

Team Seasons USL Pro Playoffs USL Pro Regular Season Domestic
(USOC, ACC, CFUCC)
Total Honors Major Honors / Championships
Winner Runner Up Winner Runner Up Winner Furthest USLP Entry
Orlando City SC 4 2 - 3 1 - 1 7 5
Richmond Kickers 4 - - 1 - 1 (pre-USLP) 1 3 2
Rochester Rhinos 4 - - - 1 1 (pre-USLP) 1 3 1
Sacramento Republic 1 1 - - 1 - - 2 1
Charleston Battery 4 1 - - - - - 1 1
Harrisburg City Islanders 4 - 2 - - - 1 3 0
Wilmington Hammerheads 4 - 1 - 1 - - 2 0
Charlotte Eagles 4 - 1 - - - - 1 0

Attendance[edit]

Season League Avg. Highest Teams Lowest Teams Ref
2011 2,274 5,330 (Orlando City)
4,927 (Rochester)
410 (Los Angeles Blues)
542 (Dayton)
[68]
2012 2,777 6,606 (Orlando City)
6,265 (Rochester)
666 (Los Angeles Blues)
722 (Dayton)
[69]
2013 2,611 8,056 (Orlando City)
5,898 (Rochester)
378 (Tampa Bay)
718 (Los Angeles Blues)
[70]
2014 3,114 11,293 (Sacramento)
5,329 (Rochester)
533 (Dayton)
597 (LA Galaxy II)
[71]

The Sacramento Republic played before a record crowd of 20,231 in its home debut on April 26, 2014 at Hughes Stadium.[72] This broke the USL Pro's previous record for attendance at a regular-season match of 10,687,[72] set by Orlando City at the Citrus Bowl on August 11, 2013.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  59. ^ Houston Dynamo brass meet with representatives in McAllen, Texas, about creating USL PRO team (Sep 9, 2014). MLSSoccer.com
  60. ^ Houston Dynamo GM: McAllen One of Many Possible Locations for USL-Pro Team. PlayingFor90.com
  61. ^ FC Dallas planning USL PRO affiliate partnership for 2015, hope to field own team in 2016 (August 14, 2014). MLSSocccer.com.
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  72. ^ a b "Republic FC loses home opener before sellout crowd at Hughes Stadium", Sacramento Bee, April 27, 2014.

External links[edit]