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USL is adding a lower pro division, a team in Washington would be a surprise

USL is already vetting Lexington, KY and Knoxville, TN. Will there be space for teams from the Evergreen State?

Last week USL announced that they intend to add a D3 league to their portfolio. The organization already has the D2 USL and D4 PDL under its umbrella. D3 would give them a pro league below USL, where Seattle Sounders 2 currently compete. That lower pro division is supposed to be in cities/regions of 150,000 to 1 million people.

Their potential expansion sites need to meet the following broad standards.

  • Strong local ownership
  • Primary owner with a net worth in excess of $10 million and 35% or greater share of the potential franchise
  • Soccer-specific stadia
  • Seating Capacity: 3,500
  • Pitch Size: 110 yards x 70 yards​​​
  • Viable market size and support
  • Markets with a population between 150,000 to 1 million and a strong corporate and fan base for support

The league has already started researching Lexington, KY, Knoxville, TN, Asheville, NC and Greenville, SC. These markets range from Knoxville’s roughly 1 million strong metro area to Greenville’s just below 100k population. They are also in an area with easy bus travel between a dozen or so markets across the mid- and deep-South.

Cities in Washington state are generally on the low-end of the D3 standards or a close suburb of Seattle and would be forced to compete with the Sounders and/or S2 (Tacoma, Bellevue, Everett).

One of the problems with a lower-level pro league with markets in the Pacific Northwest is travel. It’s hard to find enough teams to fill out the PDL’s Northwest Division. The EPL-WA is in some of the same markets that might have people who are considering USLD3, but the climb from amateur team with a few hundred attendees to pro with a couple thousand has destroyed plenty of soccer-business dreams in American history.

In Oregon the following markets may be far enough from the Timbers’ influence and able to support a D3 team - Bend, Corvallis-Albany. In Idaho there’s the large-ish area of Boise (which is regularly rumored to want to be in D2) and Coeur d'Alene (near the bottom of the population spectrum).

The following Washington cities have generally the proper size and the facilities would in nearly every case count on a partnership with baseball or a new soccer facility - Spokane (~530k), Olympia (~255k), Bremerton (~255k), Tri-Cities (~255k), Yakima (~245k), Bellingham (~200k).

Vancouver, WA would face a similar situation to a Tacoma-based team. The Timbers brand is just too strong there.

Can USLD3 find eight rich people and corporate partners among the 10 possibilities in the Pacific Northwest? Almost certainly not. The Sounders and Timbers dominate the main markets and between ROOT Sports, the Timbers’ and Real Salt Lake’s over-the-air partners every single one gets infrequent access to MLS games with a somewhat local flavor.

Travel outside of the region would be a major issue for a barely pro league.

It is more likely for the USL to expand the soccer footprint in our region when/if S2 moves to Tacoma and Boise decides to join the higher league.

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