United Soccer League: Overview, Status And Vision

United For Soccer

The United Soccer Leagues consist of the USL Championship, USL League One and USL League Two.

For more overview of the USL, click on the link below to read:


Status

The highest division of the USL (now branded as the “USL Championship”) overtook the defunct North American Soccer League as the United States’ second division for the 2018 season. The Championship is the largest professional league in North America.

In 2019, USL added a third-tier division (League One) to further the pyramid while renaming the unofficial fourth-division (US Soccer only certifies divisions 1 through 3), formerly known as the Premier Development League or PDL, to League Two.

USL has been successful in developing a number of markets around the country, some of which have gone on to acquire franchises in Major League Soccer. Some examples of markets that have performed well in USL are Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Cincinnati, Nashville, Sacramento, Saint Louis, Louisville, and Albuquerque.

The USL is comprised of both independent clubs and MLS-affiliated clubs.

Clubs in USL:

Leadership

Guiding the growth and direction of the USL is Jake Edwards, who serves as the President. He has been league President since 2014 and has overseen a period of rapid growth. He has also been instrumental in framing the vision of the league.

USL Executives

Expansion

Six to eight more markets are expected to join the Championship to reach the maximum number of franchises which is expected to be around 34 to 38 teams. USL’s idea is that this is enough to create regional rivalries and derby’s while keeping travel costs in check.

Expansion of League One is a priority. The plan is to have two conferences by 2021. This could be accomplished by movement of teams from the Championship to League One, in addition to new expansion teams. The vision is to have 20 to 22 teams in League One by the 2022 season.

Two new MLS-affiliated sides will enter League One for 2020, owned by the New England Revolution and Inter Miami CF.

Stadium Upgrades

The USL is focused on its clubs playing in stadiums that enhance the fan experience and provide the proper environment for the game.

The league came to the end of a 10-year strategic plan where 16 soccer specific stadiums were built. In 2019, Austin and Hartford opened. Others are in the works. The goal leading up to the 2026 World Cup is for all or most of the USL Championship teams to be playing in soccer specific stadiums. The current view is that these stadiums be in the range of 12,000 to 15,000 seats.

One such stadium currently being built is in Louisville.

Video: Louisville City FC

Promotion / Relegation

USL President Jake Edwards says the league is studying promotion and relegation as a potential future feature. Edwards has played in that system in England and says he is aware of the pros and cons, the effects it has on clubs, employment and revenues. “I’m also well aware of the excitement and the drama, and the reward for ambition, and the punishment for apathy,” he said when asked about thei subject.

For now it’s a potential future possibility The key would be to have a sustainable third division and narrow the differences in quality from one league to the other.

Long Term Vision

The current ownership of the USL is ten years old. Edwards was asked where he sees the USL when it reaches its 20th anniversary.

Edwards said the league is using the 2026 World Cup as a current guidepost. It’s his belief that the 2026 World Cup will have even more of an impact on the game here than the 1994 World Cup. “We’re starting at a much more sophisticated place,” he says. 

The vision for the USL championship at 20 (2029) is:

  • To be a league of healthy clubs that have healthy business models;
  • Teams play in 12,000- to 15,000-seat soccer stadiums, with strong showings at the gate and strong fan bases;
  • Clubs have invested in training academies and training infrastructure;
  • The academy league is built out and the league is developing and selling quality players both up and abroad;
  • The league has a robust, healthy media partnership;
  • The league has a great set of commercial partners on board;
  • The league is innovative, but is focused on the fan base. It’s a football-first league, but it’s also a fan-first league. Fans are the most important constituency; they contribute to making or breaking the success;
  • A league where many USL players are going to be playing in the World Cup in 2026. (USL had over 25 in the Gold Cup in summer 2019);
  • A league that will positively impact the growth of the game;
  • A league that’s going to be different, very exciting to go, watch and to be part of, whether one is a fan, a commercial partner or an owner.

Edwards: “We are seeing the beginnings of that now. You’re seeing the potential of that in some of the markets that we’re in. In seven years’ time, my vision is you’re going to be seeing that more. You’re going to have a championship club in your city, with a quality stadium and a great team on the field that you’re watching, still doing some amazingly cool things in the community with a really strong fanbase behind each one of those. Beyond that, who knows what’s possible, but the good thing about our structure: there’s no limits. There’s no restriction, so it’s really a league structure that rewards ambition.”

An Interview With Jake Edwards August 8, 2019

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