We end 2018 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Soccer Stadium Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #2: A new USL structure highlights a 2018 that included planning for a Division III league and future expansion.
Coming into 2018, it was apparent that the USL was heading for some major changes. A new Division III league was in the works, while an evolving slate of teams at the Division II level was bound to create more additions and departures.
The year ultimately saw considerable change, highlighted by the unveiling of a structure that puts three newly branded leagues under the USL umbrella. Announced in September, and taking effect for the 2019 season, the new structure leads to Division II USL becoming USL Championship. Meanwhile, the new Division III circuit–which had been widely referred to as USL DIII–became USL League One. The structure also affects the Premier Development League (PDL), which is becoming USL League Two.
With the new structure announced, USL spent much of 2018 laying the groundwork for the future. Plans for a 2019 launch for USL League One moved forward, with 10 teams set to compete in the league’s inaugural season. The initial slate of clubs includes Lansing Ignite, South Georgia Tormenta FC (Statesboro, Georgia), FC Tucson, Greenville Triumph SC, Forward Madison FC, Toronto FC II, Chattanooga Red Wolves SC, Orlando City B, and Richmond Kickers. Toronto, Orlando, and Richmond are shifting from Division II USL, a move that has also been announced for 2020 by the Rochester Rhinos and Penn FC.
At the Division II level, 2018 was marked by a few departures and the announcement of upcoming clubs. The 2018 season was the last in USL for FC Cincinnati, as its MLS expansion bid was approved in May with play beginning in 2019. Over its three seasons of USL competition, FC Cincinnati set several USL attendance records that will be hard to match in the future. However, the league’s remaining slate of clubs–including solid draws in Sacramento, Indianapolis, Louisville, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and other markets–could still leave it on solid footing going forward.
Meanwhile, USL Championship is also preparing for the addition of seven new expansion clubs for 2019, with many of them announced in 2018. The slate joining the league next year includes Austin Bold FC, Loudoun United FC, Hartford Athletic, New Mexico United (to play at Albuquerque’s Isotopes Park in 2019), Birmingham Legion FC, El Paso Locomotive FC, and Memphis 901 FC.
Those arrivals and departures leave USL Championship with 36 teams competing in 2019. Next season, the league will feature a 34-game regular-season schedule over 33 weeks beginning in March, with the Eastern and Western Conferences each fielding 18 teams.
Certainly 2018 was a year of transition for USL, one that saw it strive toward future growth by laying the groundwork for new teams and an upcoming Division III league. The new structure reflects that evolution, and its unveiling in 2018 provided a sign of the league’s future ambitions.
Here’s our Top Ten of 2018 to date: