USL Pro Releases Schedule and Divisional Alignment

While we await the final release of the MLS schedule, third-division USL Pro announced their schedule and division alignments on Friday, emphasizing the league’s accessibility and stability. The press release from USL Pro emphasizes that six of their franchises have more than ten years of operational experience.

The league will feature 15 teams in three divisions: American, National, and International.  The National Division will include the Dayton Dutch Lions, Harrisburg City Islanders, FC New York, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, and the Rochester Rhinos.  The American will include the Charleston Battery, the Charlotte Eagles, Orlando City, the Richmond Kickers, and the Wilmington Hammerheads.  The International is comprised of Barracuda FC, the Los Angeles Blues, Puerto Rico United, River Plate of Puerto Rico, and Sevilla FC Puerto Rico.

Each team will play 24 games with a home-and-away with every team in their division.  The games kick-off April 2nd with a Puerto Rico derby when River Plate and Sevilla FC face-off, followed by Orlando City visiting the Richmond Kickers.  The four clubs in their first year of competitive play include the relocated Orlando City at Richmond April 2, Los Angeles at Sevilla FC on April 15, FC New York at Orlando City April 9, and Barracuda hosting LA on April 17.  The schedule runs April through August, and the league will announce the playoff format at a later date.  You can see the entire schedule here.

My first thought seeing the announcement was good luck to poor LA, who we knew would struggle with travel but will definitely rack up the frequent flier miles.  At least their players can enjoy the beach four times this season.  Otherwise the divisions make sense.  It will be tough to do a playoff with three divisions, but if my suggestion would be take the three division winners and have two “wild cards”.  The wild cards would be the two best non-division winners who would have a “play-in” match, where the winner advances to the USL Pro final four playoff.

What are your thoughts on how USL Pro is developing, and is their structure so far sustainable?

30 Responses to USL Pro Releases Schedule and Divisional Alignment

  1. Rich says:

    USL Pro is 3rd Division (not 2nd).

  2. Dan says:

    First thought is that at the beginning their is small mistake and that is USL-Pro is Division 3 no matter What USL says it is D3.
    Second, What happened to the Whole Regional Leagues. LA playing against PR teams.
    Oh, USL is wanting to start a team in San Antonio next year just kills me. First they force the move of Austin to Orlando and now just because the NASL moved forward with San Antonio, USL is making this a pissing contest and have made me very anti USL. I want D3 soccer to Succeed but not if its going to hurt Soccer in the USA.

  3. Robert Hay says:

    Thanks folks, made the change. Don’t know why I said that, I know better….

    • Charles says:

      I don’t get the difference.

      Why do they call it D2 and D3 ?
      Can the D3 league become the D2 league if they are more successful ?

      I actually am having fun with that last comment, but not really.
      What designates/differentiates the D2 and D3

      • bradjmoore48 says:

        Charles –

        The USSF a few months back set out guidelines for what would constitute proper D2 soccer in the US. The guidelines are at the below link:

        So basically, after the USSF ran the joint NASL/USL D-2 league last year, they set up these guidelines. Ultimately, NASL went for, and received, provisional D-2 sanctioning, while USL decided to combine its USL-1 and USL-2 leagues into USL PRO, and “stay” at D3 in order to not have to follow the guidelines. So, for now, that’s what differentiates D2 NASL from D3 USL PRO.

        • Charles says:

          Thanks !

          Funny they say no owner can own more than one team ( except for league viability )
          Maybe MLS moves up to Div 2 soon.

  4. Geess says:

    From a design standpoint there really is no contest is there… ? 3 – 0

  5. BTW says:

    I’m antiUSL too if they start teams in the same city just to rival NASL and hurt the growth of soccer in the US.

    • ExtraMedium says:

      How does it “hurt” soccer in the US to have more teams? Wasn’t the problem in the past that we didn’t have enough teams? Oh, and open-pyramid with promotion/relegation would mean the number, concentration, and location of teams in the long run would reach appropriate levels (London has 5 PL teams, Madrid has 3 La Liga teams, Milan has 2 Serie A teams, and Paris has 1 Ligue 1 team because that’s what those cities can support). Read Richard Noll, Andrew Zimblast and Stefan Szymanski. They explain how the European model would help MLS.

      • Joe says:

        I feel like this point is made over and over again on this blog, but let’s go again.

        Maybe promotion/relegation would be great in the long term here in the US, but it would be a complete disaster to implement right now. The “top flight” league, MLS, is still in the process of stabilizing and getting investors/stadiums. No rich owner at this early stage in US soccer would risk investing in an MLS franchise that might get relegated to an even less stable second level of American soccer. There goes all the investments, and there goes all the growth. There simply isn’t the passionate level of fan involvement yet to support a pyramid of soccer. We need to make the top two levels sound and successful through improved scouting and talent development before we even consider it.

        • bradjmoore48 says:

          Joe – I agree with you, but to me the issue is will MLS and NASL really work together to help build up the 2nd division and begin the process of opening the league. Does MLS see NASL as a partner or a rival, in the way that MLS and USL were rivals in the early stages of the league? It’s a question many followers of lower league soccer are asking. The promising aspect of the NASL-MLS relationship is that Vancouver and Montreal plan to remain involved in some capacity at NASL even after starting play in MLS. The worrying aspect could be the rise of Traffic Sports, a group that mainly sells players to overseas clubs, propping up 4 NASL sides. With that much power, and their track record (see: Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano, Gale Agbossoumonde) is their bottom line the teams they are investing in?

          If the ties between the 2 divisions are strong, we could see MLS stopping expansion and allowing NASL to build themselves up for a number of years. Eventually this could lead to an announcement that the leagues top 2 divisions open up for pro/rel, and I think you’d see a lot of investors putting in for D2 sides. That would be the ideal situation.

          So yes, we need more investment and stadiums from more lower division teams but we also need to make sure that a relationship between the two divisions is healthy.

          • Charles says:

            They are neither rivals or partners. They are two different soccer leagues in the same country.

            When an investor wants to be serious, take a lot more risk, they try to move to the big leagues…MLS.

        • ExtraMedium says:

          Japan launched pro/reg after 6 years. They have the best league in Asia. Via Wiki:

          The league’s management finally realized that they were heading in the wrong direction. In order to solve the problem, the management came out with two solutions.

          First, they announced the J. League Hundred Year Vision, in which they aim to make 100 professional association football clubs in the nation of Japan by 2092, the hundredth season. The league also encouraged the clubs to promote football or non-football related sports and health activities, to acquire local sponsorships, and to build good relationship with their hometowns at the grass-root level. The league believed that this will allow the clubs to bond with their respective cities and towns and get support from local government, companies, and citizens. In other words, clubs will be able to rely on the locals, rather than major national sponsors.[1]

          Second, the infrastructure of the league was heavily changed in 1999. The league acquired nine clubs from the semi-professional JFL and one club from J. League to create a two division system. The top flight became the J. League Division 1 (J1) with 16 clubs while J. League Division 2 (J2) was launched with ten clubs in 1999. The second-tier Japan Football League (former), now became third-tier Japan Football League.

          The league also began to follow European game formats as time went on. Originally, due to the cultural unease[citation needed] of neither side coming out as the winner of a game, extra time, golden goal rules, and penalty shoot-outs were employed for regular league matches. Penalty shoot-outs were abolished in the beginning of the 1999 season, and extra time was abolished in 2002 for J2 and 2003 for J1.

          “Soccerreform” asks people to name one open-pyramid with pro/reg that’s collapsed. No one can do it because it’s never happened.

          Pre1992 Japan – no pro soccer
          1993 – J League launched using teams that already existed (NO FRANCHISES!)
          1994-1998 2nd tier clubs promoted for soccer/financial reasons like Portland and Seattle
          1999 – JLeague rebranded JLeague 1, with 2 new national leagues; pro/reg introduced

          There’s no technical reason why we can’t have that. The reason is the NFL owners don’t want it.

          • bradjmoore48 says:

            “Japan launched pro/reg after 6 years. They have the best league in Asia.”

            The K-League might beg to differ 🙂 But they obviously have the same set-up. The J-League also has a good contract structure: 3 levels, a Pro B or Pro C contract never making more than $60K a year, but with certain amount of playing time in different leagues, a player can earn a Pro A contract, which the minimum being $60K. And the contracts never explode to crazy levels, the highest paid player makes something like $2M a season. I’ve said it before, if I want MLS to eventually emulate a foreign league, the J-League is what I want it to be close to.

            I don’t have a problem with pro/rel, so you are preaching to the choir in my case; I’m watching the Asian Cup this week, and Japan and South Korea are well on their way to becoming major powers in the soccer world, they could well pass the USMNT soon, and it’s certainly a result of their respective domestic leagues. The only thing, looking over that entry on the J-League, is that it will be a lot tougher to get local support for soccer teams. I’m not saying it shouldn’t happen, but remember public financing for stadiums are not very popular among the American electorate, even for American football stadiums, so the money has to come from investors to build up stadiums. Right now, the investors seem to come from other professional sports ventures, so that can be seen as a hindrance in starting pro/rel, as its not a system they are used to. But the hope can be that eventually more investors will come from soccer backgrounds, who understand how the game works on a global scale, what does work and what doesn’t. It won’t happen overnight though. But if we the fans keep talking, hopefully others will listen.

            And, as I said earlier, the relationship between the top flight and 2nd division (MLS-NASL) is also key.

  6. ExtraMedium says:

    What if the USSF adopted a truly radical pyramid that would be different from the franchise model AND Europe? What if they adopted what I like to call the “College Model?” Let teams make their own 30-40 game schedules then have a top-16 playoff for the National title. Put rules in place like:

    1. Minimum 15K stadium.
    1a. natural grass pitch
    2. Buy insurance that would pay-out lost revenue to teams on your schedule if your club collapses.

    I’m a friggin’ genius.

    • Joe says:

      You know what? That doesn’t sound like a terrible idea. Well done.

      • Dan says:

        College football might not be a bad model too follow.

        • Ultra says:

          College football has just about the WORST model ever devised as far as a fair competition. Granted adding playoffs(like D2 CFB has) makes it much much more legit, having teams make their own schedules, and all kinds of divisions/conferences at the same level just makes no sense.

          Anyway MLS is doing okay. NASL needs to get it’s foundation and move forward, hopefully diversifying ownership just like MLS did in this past decade. Hopefully USL does what it needs to at the D3 level too. Pro/Rel may be a few generations away form happening, if ever, but we’ll need strong lower divisions regardless to continue to grow the game in North America.

          I love USL’s “regional” division with 4 Caribbean teams and Los Angeles. If LA survives the season it’ll be some kind of miracle. Even without counting the Caribbean teams, they have to fly to the east coast for every single road match. And everyone else has to fly out to them. Totally stupid allowing a team in LA without AT LEAST 2-3 more out there with them. Classic USL cash grab.

          • CoconutMonkey says:

            I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say the whole LA in the Caribbean division thing is intended to be as temporary as possible. Which is probably why they didn’t name the divisions geographically.

            Despite that, it reminds me a lot of MLS’s old 3 conference structure from back in the day. Which I actually prefered to the current setup (top 8 in the playoffs!).

    • Charles says:

      Wow that is the best all inclusive proposal I have ever heard.
      Sure beats the heck out of the cr@p that the European leagues offer up. They would be WAY better off doing that.

      I just finished watching the Wolves lose to Liverpool. ( I assumed they lost, we couldn’t finish it ) IF they don’t get demoted that league isn’t very good at all. The college system says if you schedule that, you will have trouble getting ranked in the top 16.

      I still like the exculsive MLS better, but not a bad radical idea….at all.

  7. ExtraMedium says:

    I was actually thinking about college basketball. March Madness = Champions’ League, NIT = Europa League, Conferences = National Leagues, Conference tournaments = League Cups/FA Cups. Excluding mandatory divisional movements the “European” system and non-football 1A systems are basically the same thing.

  8. Logan says:

    What if NASL and USL joined forces and created a system of pro/reg between themselves?

    • bradjmoore48 says:

      In reality, Don’t see it happening – USL and NASL see each other as rivals competing for the lower-division US Soccer market. They also have completely different models for running their respective leagues: the USL is almost completely decentralized, and NASL is centralized.

      Assume they live in a happy world and get along though: setting up pro/rel would be a start but you’re basically looking at the ‘top-flight’ as, if you’re lucky, teams with 5,000 seat stadiums and generating low attendances and low revenue (by MLS standards). It could work if there was a lot of local interest and investment, but they would have to be a lot of very committed fans, otherwise owners won’t see this as anymore than a losing endeavor. Basically it would be an uphill battle. And they’ll never shake the perception of being “minor-league”, which few care about outside baseball where it is financed by the MLB affiliate teams, and people can see “the stars of tomorrow…today!” Unless there is an incentive of a shot at the Big Time (MLS) you’ll still see lower-division soccer continue to fail at an alarming rate. If there’s always a shot, investors will stay interested in lower-divisions and to figure out the best way to reach the top, and how to stay up once they do.

    • Roger says:

      I think you bring a very goog question!

      IMHO If a miracle happens and: NASl=Div 1; USL Pro=Div 2; PDL=Div 3, with promotion and relegation linking them, it will not take long for that pyramid to become the real deal for the fans.

      The number of PDL clubs will multiply very quick, since it will open the doors for new clubs to get into the sysem cheap. Such a system will also gain the international recognition that we are finally doing things right.
      Imagine how many european and south american cubs will show interest in having afiliated clubs here, now that it will be cheaper and with the system that they are used to operate on.

      Your question makes a lot of sense, especially since MLS have taken their best clubs without giving lower division soccer nothing in return. I think that if they join forces and implement the right system, they can take MLS down. It only makes sense for NASL and USL to find a way to work their diferences out.
      It could turn into something very interesting.Maybe if such a merge happens, MLS will face a dilema. Will they try to joing a NASL/USL pro/rel pyramid? Will they keep their single entity system and fall into total irrelevance?

      What a good way it will be to resolve the US promotion and relegation debate. Having both system implemented at the same time working side by side. Let’s see wich one would prevail!!

      • bradjmoore48 says:

        Roger – I love the optimism, but in order for something like this to work, it would take what you stated at the beginning – a miracle.

        I’ll run with your thinking: we’ll assume that with this opening, a lot of international investment comes in from other clubs, setting up affiliates here. If a major European or South American club wants an affiliate in the US, it means 2 things: they want their brand name exposed and they want to use the team as a feeder system. Clubs like Barcelona and Man Utd are not interested in improving the American soccer landscape, they are interested in getting their name out so more Americans buy into THEIR product. Initially I think this was part of the reason MLS set itself up the way it did, to build up their own product without the assistance of overseas teams, who would only be interested in their own motives and would just turn US soccer into a European feeder system. There would not be a best case scenario of overseas clubs putting money into lower divisions through the goodness of their hearts. The worst-case scenario is lower-division soccer becomes filled up with teams like “FC Barcelona Kalamazoo” or “Ajax Detroit” or the like. Roger, I know you’ve made a point of distinguishing between clubs and franchises, but at this point, would there be any difference between what MLS does and NASL/USL/PDL would be doing? It’s still branding. In fact, MLS might have an edge in that argument, in a type of “yes, we have bastardized versions of clubs, but it’s OUR bastardized versions of clubs.” Teams like Seattle Sounders and DC United can claim they haven’t been tainted by the mass European branding system that would have taken over the lower divisions, that they are still fully “American” teams.

        Now assume we allow the international investment to come in and pay good money and builds up a somewhat viable pro/rel system between NASL/USL/PDL, and they are competing with MLS. Go further and say NASL/USL/PDL wins out, and our top flight is now full of Ajax Detroits -Roger you may have won your argument, but at what cost? A mass-European branded system, which goes completely against what would have made pro/rel the unique and workable model it was supposed to be, which was more local involvement.

        I’m all for pro/rel, but if its going to be done, it has to be done right, not at all costs. That means, I WANT local involvement in clubs, with owners and fans who care about their teams and the system. And yes, it has to involve MLS. For soccer to truly grow in this country, MLS needs lower-division soccer, and the lower-divisions need MLS; unfortunately MLS hasn’t met their side of the bargain yet. The only way it will happen is if the owners of MLS are willing to look and see that there’s a chance for even bigger rewards with an open system, that there is a strong economic benefit to open the league up and hope for competition that would improve the quality of play, thus improving attendances, revenues and commercial appeal.

        • Roger says:

          @ bradjmoore48
          International investment would be just one factor among many others that such a change will bring upom american soccer. You describe a very pesimistic , kind of sad description of the influence it could have here. I disagre with your vision.

          Of course the intention behind those investments would be self-promotion. However, there could be huge benefits for american soccer as well. The first one would the spark of atention it wil generate. Who would not like to see their local club playing a Barca afiliate?! Just an example.

          The second would be the sense of openness and legitimacy it will bring to north american soccer. We will feel somehow closer connected to international soccer, we could learn A LOT from those old soccer institutions.
          As of the league becoming …”A mass-European branded system”. I doubt it. Think that such a structure will incentivate the growth of the number of clubs on our lower divisions. Notice that the PDL actually has more than 80 teams. How many international afiliated clubs could we get? They will only be a small porcentage of our lower division clubs! It will not become the league of the “Ajax Detroits”.

          I know there are hurdles on the way of promotion and relegation in north america, but I also know that the benefits and rightfullness of the system outweight all the arguments thet we are told against it. I dont think that our actual “leadership” will ever voluntarily implement pro/rel.

          It is up to the fans , IMHO. Specially the ones on the markets that are “left-out”, to grow our soccer conciousness, stand up and tell them….” there is a way wich will give us the chance to be part of it. Why are you not implementing it?”.

          The fans are really the ones that kicked out the shoot outs, not them! The fans are ultimatelly the ones that will make pro/are a reality in north american soccer! NOT THEM!

          • bradjmoore48 says:

            Roger – thanks for the comment. I’m someone who’s generally always challenging people’s ideas and trying to get them to explain themselves.

            So yes, I painted a bleak picture of international influence of the lower divisions, but I did a sort-of worst case scenario. There is a middle ground where investment can come in from overseas clubs and they can help teach best practices, but hopefully the club retains a local flavor, even if it means cheesy names like the Dayton Flying Dutchmen or whatnot. The overseas club can promote itself with pre-season friendlies and the like, maybe ticket giveaways to see the team live in Europe, South America or Asia, things like that. Personally, I could see this as a great opportunity for teams in up and coming domestic leagues like Germany, Japan and South Korea. Outside of Bayern Munich, most teams in Germany don’t have an international following, but this could be a great chance for a league I think will be the best in Europe in the next few years. And from our angle, the Germans, Japanese and Koreans have all fairly recently (Germany in the 1950s, Japan and Korea late 1990s) went professional and implemented a pro/rel system, so they have a better idea of the hardships and successes of the system in a more modern world, rather than England where it has been institutionalized for over 100 years. They also have good financial criteria that keeps their teams from going in debt, so I think they would appreciate any American sentiment to say “We want our team to do well, but not at the expense of ruining our club financially.”

            So that I hope paints a rosier picture 🙂 Soccer is a global game and going it alone hasn’t always worked for us in the past. I just don’t want to lose an American identity for a European brand name, which was the crux of my earlier argument, and I’d like to be optimistic other fans would not be either.

  9. Roger says:

    I agree that identity is an important issue. I also think that one of the qualities of our game is that it reflects life in an expontaneous way.

    America is a mixture of many identities. Therefore , taking that in consideration , wich system would better give us the oportunity to feel identified with our teams?

    A) MLS an its single entity concept. “Go and support your local franchise, wich is in another state (Red Bulls NY ?!)”
    If you live in Chicago (example) , you have one franchise you are suppose to support wheather you are american, mexican, polish, extraterrestial, mutant, republican , democrat.

    B) An open soccer system with divisions linked with pro/rel. That would make posible for many diferent owners, institutions, communities, to create their own clubs and support them, since there will not be a prohibitive price tag.

    A good example of how could such a system make a diference is Miami. The NASL franchise draws a little more than 1000 fans x game. There are local teams like Selecion Haiti that draws 2 or 3 times more than Miami FC every time they play an important local match.

    MLS and its single entity concept is all about control. They control the players salaries through the CBA and the diferent drafts. They control the number of franchises. They decide franchises names and kits. They make sure there is parity through the salary cap.
    If we are concern about developing a soccer identity, MLS and its single entity concept is the last thing we want!

  10. Charles says:

    Don’t say we, you you mean me.

    I want the single entity. I like the control aspect. I like parity. I like playoffs. I like the NFL. I like the financials of the single entity. As in lots of money versus…well none.
    I could go on and on and on.

    But I would rather talk about the Sounders, who announced that the beginning of March is the kickoff date for the Trivalry preseason tourney.
    Then I will throw in barbs about why I like single entity and its huge money so much.

    At Starfire. Why Starfire ? I don’t know. They had the Timbers preseason game at QWest last year.
    Portland was still in the struggling type of league that you like.

    The Sounders need to figure out that they can draw fans. At $10 a pop, QWest would have 10-15k fans for these games. Again they are not playing in the league that you like with no money.

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