The USL Championship announced the alignment of its four divisions for the 2021 season on Tuesday. With 31 teams, the league will consist of three eight-team divisions — the Atlantic and Central Divisions of the Eastern Conference, and the Pacific Division in the Western Conference — and one division with only seven teams, the Mountain Division in the Western Conference. Teams will play 32 games over a 27-week period with a flexible start date between April 24 and May 15.
Teams will play their division opponents four times each, with two home games and two away games. The remaining games — four for teams in the Atlantic, Central, and Pacific Divisions, eight games for the Mountain Division — will be played against regional or cross-conference opponents.
Tacoma Defiance will be one of the eight teams of the Pacific Division. They’ll be joined by LA Galaxy II, Las Vegas Lights FC, Oakland Roots SC, Orange County SC, Phoenix Rising FC, Sacramento Republic FC, and San Diego Loyal SC. With the decision by the Portland Timbers to no longer operate a team in the USL Championship, Tacoma’s nearest opponent will be Sacramento Republic FC. Phoenix enters 2021 as the reigning league champions, and five of Tacoma’s other six divisional opponents that competed in USLC last year finished with a better record than the Defiance in 2020. Since last year, Las Vegas has become the affiliate team for LAFC, and newcomers Oakland Roots should provide an interesting challenge as they find their way in a new league, meaning Defiance are in for a real test on the field this season.
It seems most likely that the four remaining games on Tacoma’s schedule will come against teams from the Mountain Division, which includes Austin Bold FC, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, El Paso Locomotive FC, New Mexico United, Real Monarchs SLC, Rio Grande Valley FC, and San Antonio FC. Real Monarchs were one of the teams that Tacoma played from outside of their group in 2020, along with Las Vegas. Portland aren’t the only 2020 opponent that Tacoma are guaranteed not to see in 2021, as Reno 1868, who finished atop Tacoma’s group, have also ceased operations.
Tacoma Defiance have begun their 2021 preseason, and will play the Seattle Sounders on March 25 with more preseason games sure to come as they prepare for the season.