United Soccer League
|Other club(s) from||Canada|
|Founded||September 8, 2010|
|Number of teams||24|
|Level on pyramid||3 (US)|
|Domestic cup(s)||Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup|
|Current champions||Sacramento Republic
|Current Commissioner's Cup||Orlando City
|Most championships||Orlando City (2 titles)|
|Most Commissioner's Cups||Orlando City (3 shields)|
|2015 USL season|
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 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.
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.
- 1 Competition format
- 2 Media coverage
- 3 Clubs
- 4 History
- 5 Champions
- 6 USL club honors
- 7 Attendance
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
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.
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.
|Team||City||Stadium (capacity)||Founded||First season||Head coach||MLS Affiliate(s)|
|Planned Expansion Teams|
|FC Cincinnati||Cincinnati, Ohio||Nippert Stadium||2015||2016||John Harkes|
|Lehigh Valley USL 2016||Bethlehem, Pennsylvania||Goodman Stadium||2015||2016||tba||Philadelphia Union|
|Rio Grande Valley FC||Edinburg, Texas||Under construction [i]||2015||2016||tba||Houston Dynamo|
|Central Florida USL team [vi]||Central Florida||tba||2015||2016 (expected)||Anthony Pulis||Orlando City SC|
On September 8, 2010, USL formally announced the creation of USL Pro in a press release. 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. 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. With the departure of the Portland Timbers to MLS in 2011 and the defection of the Puerto Rico Islanders to the NASL 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. 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". 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. 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. 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. 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.
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds were added as the 9th official team on October 22, 2010. October 25, 2010 saw the addition of the Rochester Rhinos 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.
On November 9, 2010, former USL-2 Division side Wilmington Hammerheads officially joined the league as the 12th team, followed on November 17, 2010 by F.C. New York. 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.
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. The "Caribbean Division" of USL Pro grew to four teams on December 9, 2010 with the addition of Puerto Rico United to the league, 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.
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.
Play begins (2011–2012)
|2011||15→12||–||Puerto Rico United
River Plate P. Rico
Sevilla FC P. Rico
|2012||11||–||F.C. New York|
VSI Tampa Bay FC
|2014||14||Arizona United SC acquired rights to the Phoenix FC franchise|
|Los Angeles Galaxy II
Oklahoma City Energy FC
Sacramento Republic FC
VSI Tampa Bay FC
|2015||24||Charlotte Independence acquired rights to Charlotte Eagles franchise
Louisville City purchased rights to Orlando City franchise
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
New York Red Bulls II
Portland Timbers 2
Saint Louis FC
Seattle Sounders FC 2
Toronto FC II
Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Whitecaps FC 2
|Dayton Dutch Lions|
Rio Grande Valley
Central Florida USL team†
Sporting KC USL team†
|†Announced by club but not league.|
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.
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.
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. The PRSL clubs were dropped due to economic and ownership issues. 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. With F.C. New York withdrawing in January 2012, the league announced an eleven team single-table schedule for the 2012 season.
Beginnings of MLS partnership (2013–2014)
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.
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. The Houston Dynamo announced that they will be partnering with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in 2014. However, this partnership between the Riverhounds and Dynamo was dissolved after just one year. Following the conclusion of the 2013 season, VSI Tampa Bay folded after only one season, along with founding league member Antigua.
In December 2012, Sacramento announced it would begin play in 2014 as an expansion team, and in July 2014, USL announced that Oklahoma City would also join USL in 2014. 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. The Los Angeles Blues were rebranded as Orange County Blues FC on February 5, 2014. The Phoenix FC franchise was revoked and replaced with Arizona United SC on March 13, 2014.
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 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 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, 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. Finally, on December 11, 2014, the Dayton Dutch Lions self-relegated to play in the PDL starting in 2015.
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 in West Valley City was announced with the team playing at Rio Tinto Stadium until it is built. 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. 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. On November 20, 2014, Toronto FC announced that it would also field a team, subsequently named Toronto FC II, for the 2015 season. Whitecaps FC 2 joined USL Pro the next day. After discussing plans for a USL Pro team in 2015, then postponing those plans in September, the New York Red Bulls reversed themselves again and announced that their USL Pro team, New York Red Bulls II would begin play in 2015.
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. On January 16, 2015 New York City FC announced that it would have an affiliate relationship with the Wilmington Hammerheads and the Chicago Fire announced their affiliation with St Louis. On February 9, 2015, FC Dallas announced it would add Arizona United SC as its USL Pro affiliate. 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 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.
In 2015, the league announced a branding change, with the league now called the "United Soccer League" or "USL" for short. They introduced a new logo and branding, and stated their intention to re-apply for Division II status within the United States Soccer Federation hierarchy.
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. 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.
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 former assistant coach with New York Red Bulls.
Possible future teams
In a telephone interview on July 23, 2015, USL President Jake Edwards indicated that although the teams have not been announced, the league has decided which teams will start in 2016, "The deals are done and the plans are finalized." In addition to Rio Grande Valley FC and FC Cincinnati, Cincinnati mayor John Cranley stated that the USL now has 29 teams. News reports indicate the additional teams that are likely to be added in 2016 are:
- Orlando City SC: On June 30, 2015, Orlando City announced that it would field a USL team in 2016. The club announced that Anthony Pulis as coach and that the team would play in somewhere in Central Florida with Brevard County and the Space Coast being specifically identified as possible locations. The club also announced that it has signed a formal partnership with Louisville City to replace their affiliation which will end after the 2015 season.
- Sporting KC: The Courier-Journal reported that Sporting KC will field a USL team for 2016, but no announcement was made regarding their relationship with OKC Energy.
News reports also suggest that USL is already planning additional teams for 2017.
- FC Dallas: In August 2014, management stated they intend to have a USL team for the 2016 season; however, there has been no further news regarding their intentions and they have been left off news reports regarding the 2016 USL season.
- Reno: On July 29, 2015, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported that a group from Reno was finalizing negotiations to acquire a franchise that would play in the city. The group led by Reno Aces baseball owner Herb Simon, stated that, if successful the group would begin play in 2017, and would play their home matches at Aces Ballpark stating USL is more concerned over control of the stadium than that it be "soccer-specific".
- Nashville FC: On July 29, 2015, MLSSoccer.com reported that FC Nashville club president Chris Jones is exploring a move to USL or NASL. If successful this would be the first supporters owned club in either league.
Current clubs Future clubs Club moved to MLS Club moved 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.
|Team||City||Stadium||Years Active in USL|
|Antigua Barracuda||St. John's, Antigua||Stanford Cricket Ground (5,000)||2011–2013|
|Charlotte Eagles||Charlotte, North Carolina||Dickson Field (5,000)||2011–2014|
|Dayton Dutch Lions||West Carrollton, Ohio||DOC Stadium (3,000)||2011–2014|
|F.C. New York||Queens, New York||Belson Stadium (5,000)||2011|
|Orlando City||Lake Buena Vista, Florida||ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex (5,500)||2011–2014|
|Phoenix FC||Tempe, Arizona||Sun Devil Soccer Stadium (3,400)||2013|
|Puerto Rico United||Aguada, Puerto Rico||Aguada Stadium (4,000)||2011|
|River Plate Puerto Rico||Fajardo, Puerto Rico||Roberto Clemente Stadium (12,500)||2011|
|Sevilla Puerto Rico||Juncos, Puerto Rico||Josué Elevadito González Stadium (2,500)||2011|
|VSI Tampa Bay||Plant City, Florida||Plant City Stadium (6,700)||2013|
|2011||Orlando City||Orlando City|
|2012||Charleston Battery||Orlando City|
|2013||Orlando City||Richmond Kickers|
|2014||Sacramento Republic||Orlando City|
|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|
|†||Match decided by a penalty shootout after extra time|
USL club honors
Current through 2015 US Open Cup; 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|
|Richmond Kickers||5||-||-||1||-||1 (pre-USL)||1||3||2|
|Rochester Rhinos||5||-||-||-||1||1 (pre-USL)||1||3||1|
|Harrisburg City Islanders||5||-||2||-||-||-||1||3||0|
|Season||League Avg.||Highest Teams||Lowest Teams||Ref|
|2011||2,274||5,330 (Orlando City)
|410 (Los Angeles Blues)
|2012||2,777||6,606 (Orlando City)
|666 (Los Angeles Blues)
|2013||2,611||8,056 (Orlando City)
|378 (Tampa Bay)
718 (Los Angeles Blues)
597 (LA Galaxy II)
6,693 (Louisville City)
|488 (Toronto FC ll)
338 (FC Montréal)
The Sacramento Republic played before a record crowd of 20,231 in its home debut on April 26, 2014 at Hughes Stadium. This broke the USL Pro's previous record for attendance at a regular-season match of 10,687, set by Orlando City at the Citrus Bowl on August 11, 2013.
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