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Is lower level soccer in Western America about to enter boom period?

After a few years in a row of teams climbing out of the lower divisions to enter MLS, the NASL and USL PRO lack significant representation in the Western United States. That may change soon.

Could Kitsap take a step up into USL PRO? Maybe
Could Kitsap take a step up into USL PRO? Maybe

As the U.S. Open Cup reminded several MLS sides in the Western United States recently, the lower levels just do not have many pro teams west of the Mississippi. There are the LA Blues and Phoenix FC Wolves in USL PRO. The NASL's Western teams are San Antonio Scorpions and the Minnesota United (they also have FC Edmonton). Next year the only obvious additions are teams in Sacramento (USL PRO) and Indianapolis (NASL). That will not mitigate travel in the Open Cup, nor really help the lower leagues.

But things seem likely to change. The USL PRO-MLS Reserves partnership is leading teams like Seattle and Salt Lake to explore launching their own teams within the USL-Pro, in contrast to an affiliation like Orlando and SKC have. Portland is expected to do something similar and Vancouver need only find a location to bump its PDL-Residency up a level (the CSA does not want to sanction Division 3 teams in leagues run outside of Canada). That is when things could start to cascade. Because Kitsap and Victoria (Victoria has the same CSA issue as Vancouver) could also both make the leap up to a fully pro organization, should the timing be right with other Western teams joining the fray.

In what could be a flurry of expansion fueled in part by money from MLS and in part by lower travel costs, the West's number of non-MLS fully professional sides could go from four to twelve (or nine in Pacific and Mountain time zones). A change like that does not just help the Open Cup, it also would provide more Americans a way to make money in soccer. This would provide more routes for players to develop their quality and for MLS teams (in the West, particularly) to discover that quality. More scouts, more coaches, and more players will eventually mean better players found even if just by accident. It means more game time for those currently on the bubble. And, perhaps most pertinent of all, it means more soccer to watch for all.

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