Coming off of a solid regular season, the USL could be adding more teams in the future, according to president Jake Edwards.
On the whole, 2016 was a solid season for the USL, which saw a 33% increase in total attendance from 2015. FC Cincinnati and San Antonio FC received strong fan support in their inaugural seasons, while clubs such as Sacramento Republic FC and Louisville City FC continued to have success.
Reno is set to join the league next year, followed by Nashville SC in 2018, though that organization is still in the process of its stadium search. Meanwhile, more MLS and USL organizations are creating partnerships, with Houston and Rio Grande Valley FC becoming the latest.
While Austin will sit out another season, and the Wilmington Hammerheads self-relegated to the Premier Development League, there is clearly room for the USL to grow. In fact, there have been rumors over the last few months that both Ottawa and Tampa Bay jump ship from the NASL and join the league.
When asked about that possibility recently, Edwards declined to directly addressed Ottawa and Tampa Bay, but confirmed that the USL is looking to add more clubs. More from MLSsoccer.com:
Edwards said USL is planning on continuing to expand for at least a few more years with an eye on eventually forming three conferences – Eastern, Central and Western – of 12-15 teams each.
Reno and Nashville have both been confirmed to join the league in the next two years, and it’s also been reported recently that the NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury will move to USL next year. Edwards declined to comment on those reports, saying the league would address them after the season.
There’s also the possibility that the Austin Aztex, who have been on hiatus since midway through the 2015 season after flooding damaged their stadium, will eventually return. Edwards said that the club wouldn’t be back in 2017, but that the league and local ownership are working to get a stadium built in Austin to secure a return to USL.
“Expansion will continue for certainly for a few more seasons,” Edwards said. “There are a couple more strategic markets that we think will do tremendously well, will sustain a really solid club and a good fan base. We’ll continue to do that as long as we’re working with the right people and have the right ownership behind it.”
Beyond expansion talks, there have been other signs of the USL’s growth. In a first for the league, Sunday’s USL Cup Final will be simulcast on ESPNU and SiriusXM.
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