In separate announcements this afternoon, the USL confirmed that both the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury FC will join the league next season.
The possibility of such a move had been reported in September, as the Rowdies and Fury FC looked to depart the NASL for the USL. In their announcement, the Rowdies and the USL cited the team’s location as a factor.
“With our league headquartered in Tampa, we are pleased to welcome the Rowdies to the USL for next season,” said Alec Papadakis, the Chief Executive Officer of the USL said in a statement. “This allows us to expand our footprint into the Southeast with a storied soccer brand while meeting our key tenets of market size, committed local ownership and stadium development. In Bill Edwards, we have a dedicated local owner who has invested heavily in the team’s stadium, front office and media efforts and is considered one of the marketplace’s top business and forward-thinking leaders. Bill is a renowned philanthropist and has donated significant money for children’s and veterans’ causes.”
“We are excited to join the United Soccer League in 2017,” said Rowdies Chairman and CEO Bill Edwards. “I have said from the day I acquired controlling interest in this club that I wanted to make it one of the most successful teams in North America. The Rowdies’ move to the USL is a positive step toward reaching the long-term goals of the club.”
The arrival of Ottawa, meanwhile, gives the USL a fourth team in Canada, as Fury FC joins Toronto FC II, Montreal FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2.
“In Ottawa we have a world-class ownership group with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which has transformed a section of Canada’s capital city into a sports, entertainment and residential destination that is second-to-none,” Papadakis said. “Like many of our current ownership groups, OSEG has cross ownership that includes a CFL team and a team in the Ontario Hockey League, and Fury FC’s success both on the field and in the stands makes the club an outstanding addition to the USL.”
“We’re excited to be joining the fastest growing soccer league in the world,” Fury FC President John Pugh said. “The USL’s goal is to be the top second division league in the world and we are thrilled to be part of it. Our growing and loyal fan base deserves and can expect a very high caliber of play and tremendous competition.”
The USL will play at 29 teams for next season, as Tampa Bay, Ottawa, and Reno are all joining the circuit. The USL is adding these teams as it vies for second-tier status.
Meanwhile, the NASL is at a crossroads. Tampa Bay and Ottawa’s departures comes after the confirmation that the Minnesota United, the league’s top-drawing team in 2016, will join the MLS in 2017. The league is also facing ownership issues with both Rayo OKC and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, and the San Francisco Deltas are the only expansion franchise confirmed for 2017.
As a league in North America, the NASL operates in an environment where owners are free to take their clubs wherever they choose. All we can do is acknowledge that reality and move forward with our business, which is exactly what we’re doing right now. We have never had a stronger and more unified group of owners who are committed to the league’s model, its structure, and its long-term vision. With a half-dozen serious expansion discussions in progress, the league looks forward to adding new owners who share in the Board’s vision.
We have ambitious plans for growth, and we’re proud that the flexibility of the NASL model remains an extremely attractive proposition for investors seeking to become part of an authentic, competitive soccer league. While we don’t want to take anything away from what is sure to be another exciting postseason, we’re focused on ensuring that, in 2017, the NASL is one of the most competitive soccer leagues around.