The USL is making plans for the 2019 season. Over the last several months, the Division II circuit has been unveiling its latest round of expansion clubs that will begin play next year.
With the last of those seven clubs having been announced last month, and more information about the others being unveiled, the landscape of expansion teams for next season is taking shape. In light of that, we present an early overview of 2019 USL expansion clubs.
Austin Bold FC
Plans for an Austin USL club were first announced last August, when Bobby Epstein revealed his intention to field a team in 2019 that would play home games at a 5,000-seat stadium at Circuit of the Americas. Those plans eventually came into doubt, however, when Columbus Crew SC investor-operator Anthony Precourt revealed last fall that he was exploring of move of his team to Austin. Discussions about a new MLS stadium in Austin continue, but the USL club is moving toward a 2019 launch. Its branding—Austin Bold FC—was unveiled late last week, along with the hiring of head coach Marcelo Serrano and a few player signings.
Birmingham Legion FC
The latest addition to a city with a solid sports scene, the Legion will play its games at BBVA Compass Field. Located on the University of Alabama Birmingham’s campus in downtown, the stadium will undergo a renovation/expansion in order to accommodate the USL. When it debuts next year, the Legion will be the latest addition to a downtown Birmingham sports scene that already features baseball’s Barons (Class AA; Southern League), who play at nearby Regions Field.
The yet-to-be-named team will be backed by MountainStar Sports Group and play its games at Southwest University Park, the home of baseball’s Chihuahuas (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League). With this move, MountainStar becomes the latest group to own both MiLB and USL franchises. The club will play at Southwest University Park for now, though a new soccer-specific stadium could be pursued down the road.
The Athletic will be backed by Hartford Sports Group, an entity led by local businessman Bruce Mandell. While representing the arrival of professional soccer to the city, the Athletic’s debut will also have implications for Dillon Stadium, one of Hartford’s most historic facilities. Originally built under the auspices of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, its condition has fallen on hard times in recent years. However, the venue will receive a significant renovation with the arrival of the Athletic, one that will ultimately raise it to Division II standards.
Loudoun United FC
Announced last month as the seventh and final USL expansion team for 2019, the club is part of a broader initiative for D.C. United as it plans a new training facility in Loudoun County, VA. The USL’s United are a big component of those plans, as the club is slated to play its games at a 5,000-seat stadium that will be located within the complex.
This is another example of an MiLB and USL club falling under the same ownership. Memphis will be backed by Principal Owner Peter Freund and President Craig Unger, who also serve in those roles for baseball’s Redbirds (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League). The club will play its games at AutoZone Park in downtown Memphis, and its branding is set to be announced September 1—the same day that AutoZone Park hosts an exhibition between MLS’s Colorado Rapids and USL’s Tulsa Roughnecks FC.
Albuquerque will welcome Division II soccer next year, as the yet-to-be-named USL club will be led by President and Team Owner Peter Trevisani. It will also mark the latest USL team to play out of an MiLB facility. In New Mexico’s case, it will play home matches at Isotopes Park, which is primarily the home of the Isotopes (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League).
With these additions, the USL’s lineup for 2019 would currently stand at 38 teams, a number that accounts for FC Cincinnati’s move to MLS and Toronto FC II’s drop down to the upcoming USL Division III circuit. However, we do not expect that number to hold. We expect other MLS-owned USL teams — current and suspended from last season — to join Toronto in dropping to USL Division III in 2019.