First reported by SI.com’s Brian Straus this morning, and speculated for over two years, the United Soccer League announced today that it will be launching a brand-new, Division 3 league under its business umbrella.
Re-launched in 2011 after the split with owners who would form the North American Soccer League, the USL grew slowly at first, testing the waters of expansion and business growth in various avenues. Then in 2013, its partnership with Major League Soccer paved the way for new streams of revenue and visibility, markedly raising its value.
As first reported by Chad Hollingsworth - now of Scratching the Pitch - in December of 2014, the USL announced in February of 2015 that it would be applying for Division 2 status with the United States Soccer Federation, which was granted on a provisional basis in January of this year. Almost from the moment of the leak in 2014, fans have been asking if the USL would look to re-establish its two-tiered format of the early 2000’s, and now it looks like it will. This time, though, they have the money, and the momentum, to do it really, really well.
The new, as yet-unnamed, Division 3 league will have the USL’s significant broadcasting and sponsorship network to draw from, as well as existing relationships with would-be ownership groups who were sized out - or priced out - of the league’s D2 ambitions over the past two years.
The release states that the league will be “...targeting communities ranging in population from 150,000 to one million.” This opens the door for many excellent soccer markets around the United States (and, Canada?) to bring in a professional league with a high production value.
USL President Jake Edwards stated in a recent interview with The USL Show podcast that expansion candidates had been identified for entry to the USL for the 2018, 2019, and 2020 seasons. It now stands to reason that some of those candidates for 2019 and 2020 are indeed meant to participate in the new Division 3 entity.
Does this mean we will see internal promotion and relegation in a professional setup? Don’t count on it. All roadblocks still apply, and that includes the necessity for clubs that move up from D3 to D2 to meet the USSF standards for D2, which is likely why this new league is necessary in the first place. This isn’t about pro/rel. This is about getting pro soccer to the communities that deserve it, from an organization that has proved it can be done right.
What do you think? Positive move for the league? For the sport? Let us know in the comments.