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USL Championship season is likely to happen

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They’re the first of America’s pro soccer leagues to announce a start date — kind of.

AOC and Shandon Hopeau celebrate a goal at Cheney Stadium
Charis Wilson courtesy of Seattle Sounders FC and Tacoma Defiance

While there is doubt about the MLS season starting “on time”, the USL Championship has a start date and an agreement in principle for their new CBA. While the individual home openers are not yet announced, every team and fan knows that their squad will take the pitch for the first time between April 24 and May 15.

Every USL Championship side will play 32 matches over the period of about 27 weeks, with the regular season expected to end in October and playoffs in November. The start of training camps and specific home openers will be decided between the league, teams, and local health authorities.

The 2021 season will place the 31 teams in 4 divisions, which will be better for the competition than the tiny pods of last year’s restart. New to the league, and certain to be an opponent of Tacoma Defiance, are Oakland Roots. Roots left the 3rd tier NISA for USL Championship this last offseason after finishing 2nd in that league. Christian Herrera was their starting keeper in the Fall Season after completing his loan to Tacoma, and he is now a permanent Defiance signee.

Gone are Reno 1868 (folded), St. Louis FC (folded), and North Carolina FC (self-relegated to League One), along with Portland Timbers 2 and Philadelphia Union 2, who both on hiatus before joining the MLS Reserve League.

The USL Players Association, backed by the the Communication Workers of America, reached their first every Collective Bargaining Agreement with USL owners. It is still pending ratification. The key takeaways to the new agreement, that will be rule for both independent and ‘MLS2’ clubs, are that there is a minimum salary floor, standard contract lengths, and baseline operating conditions, per The Athletic.

After a year with dramatic reductions in revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic, USL Championship clubs must be eager to have more fans in stadium and will certainly be tracking safe opening standards and vaccination rate around the country.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks, Charlotte Independence, and Phoenix Rising are all opening new stadiums in 2021. In 2022 Queensboro FC and Rhode Island are expected to join the league. Buffalo and Des Moines are also slated to join the league in the near future.

Tacoma Defiance’s current roster includes Academy talents Alec Diaz (forward), Ray Serrano (right wing), Azriel Gonzalez (left wing), Danny Robles (CAM), Marlon Vargas (winger), Reed Baker-Whiting (DM), Sota Kitahara (DM/RB), Alex Villaneuava (LB/LW/RB), and Tacoma-born Eric Kinzner (CB). Defiance returns AB Cissoko (CB) and Taylor Mueller (CB) to the squad. Tacoma’s new additions are former Timber Carlos Anguiano (CAM/DM) and former Roots keeper Herrera.

At this time it is unknown if the only way for MLS players to appear in USL Championship matches will be via a long-term loan (as Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez and Ethan Dobbeleare did in 2020) or if the practice of players bouncing between teams will be permitted by the two leagues’ Covid-19 protocols.