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USL PRO may have plans to apply for D2 status for 2017

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It would be a significant change in the US Soccer pyramid and return USL to a status it had prior to the NASL break away.

Mike Russell

Reckless Challenge gets a tip from the USL PRO annual meeting that the nation's third division is on a quest for greater things - second division status. That quest appears to involve moving back up the pyramid to where USL and the A-League were until 2011 after the NASL teams split off from USL.

This is happening as USL PRO's is strengthening its ties to MLS. The Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact are launching teams in USL PRO next season. Galaxy II were the only team in that structure last season. Currently the league is roughly a third MLS-owned teams, a third affiliates and a third independent clubs.

The primary impediment to recognition is not that the NASL already has recognition. USSF could grant both leagues that status (some national structures have the lowest pro tier as multiple leagues, usually regional). What would be hardest for the USL PRO to show is that 100% of their teams meet the funding and stadium requirements of D2.

  • 75% of markets must be in metro areas over 750,000
  • Stadia must seat 5,000 or more
  • Financial disclosures and a primary owner (35%+) worth at least twenty million dollars

Currently about 85 percent of USL PRO teams meet those standards (Sounders 2 will not until Starfire expands).

A presentation at the USL AGM demonstrated that the league could satisfy about 85% of the current requirements with the clubs, ownership groups, and facilities in place today. One of the shortfalls that USL PRO would have to overcome is the net-worth of a few ownership groups. -  Reckless Challenge

There are several reasons why D2 could be the quest for USL PRO. One is purely getting back to its roots. At one point it was the highest level of pro outdoor soccer in the USA. When MLS came along the USL held both D2 and D3 status. After the NASL 2.0 came along it bumped down to D3. Recent growth and the partnership with MLS probably spurs its aspirations to retake what the NASL grabbed from the USL. The soccer wars in America are never over, they just shift their territory regularly.

But there are tangible benefits as well, particularly for the independent and affiliate teams. During their pitches to prospective players and financial partners they can talk about being D2. That difference is part of what fuels NASL sides into getting talent like Raul, Kleberson and Eric Hassli. It is also part of why the NASL is on ESPN3 at times.

For those markets without stadium that meet the standards they can use the requirement in their pitch to local governments. Currently at least eight teams for the USL PRO 2015 season do not meet the stadium standards. Some need only minor growth, while other need significant expansion. Orange County and Galaxy II would have to at least double capacity. Being able to demonstrate a clear requirement and that the league has a much higher level of financial backing helps win those stadium pleas with governments that are reluctant to fund sports.

Lastly, this could be a means towards a two-tier pro system that allows for promotion-relegation. Qatar for example only has two-tiers at the pro level and the second tier has reserve teams within it. The non-Reserve sides are able to move up. The Reserves can not. Seven of the 2015 USL PRO sides will be in stadia with capacity of 10,000 people or more (Sacramento is adding 2,500 seats this offseason). Only two of those are MLS owned teams.

Normally the USL AGM has announcements about awards and scheduling, but those are now overshadowed by a rumor of the intent for significant change in 2017.

Scheduling news will be announced soon. Rumor from one of the SCT's leaders is that the league will play 28 games.

Of note - Sounders 2 season tickets will include all competitive matches (season, playoffs and USOC).