USL President Edwards Eyes Further Expansion, D2 Jump

Jake Edwards USL

by ANTHONY J. MERCED

Last week, Nashville FC became the 32nd team to join the United Soccer League — the third division in the US soccer pyramid. That number seems somewhat astonishing given the fact that just five years ago, 14 teams competed — and just two were located on the West Coast!

Now, through an agreement with Major League Soccer to house reserve teams in the competition, the USL has seen a boom in interest from ownership groups looking to bask in that relationship — and perhaps find their own road to MLS.

Current USL president Jake Edwards is excited about the opportunities that have been presented to the league. Since 2014, major markets like Sacramento, Louisville, St. Louis, Tulsa, Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio have all joined the fold and brought strong fan support with them.

Nashville is next on that list.

“We’re not specifically targeting one type of city or another,” said USL President Jake Edwards to EoS before the Nashville press conference. “Most of our cities now are within the three quarter of a million to just over a million MSA [Metropolitan Statistical Area] and there may be one or two sports teams in that area.

“You want to be in those cities because, with the exception of LA and New York, we’re the only professional soccer in the vicinity. The kind of owners we’re starting to bring into the league within those cities are very experienced operators, well capitalized, upstanding members of the community.”

That broad brushstroke has been in stark contrast to MLS and NASL expansion. The top two divisions in the U.S. pyramid seek larger markets as an essential criteria for acceptance. The USL has made it very clear that local ownership is a top priority. Nashville is just the latest ownership group to meet that requirement, following groups in Cincinnati as well as a change in local owners in Rochester.

“They bring a lot to our league,” adds Edwards. “They understand the economics and how to make it work in those sized cities. We look at cities like Cincinnati and Sacramento and St. Louis. These are fairly large cities for us but you put the right ownership groups together and you get some really fantastic results.

“But that doesn’t take anything away from our smaller markets.”

Those smaller markets are best represented by a team that will begin play in 2017 — Reno 1868. With a populated metro area of just over 400,000, Reno sits as the shining example of the type of smaller market shunned by the larger U.S. leagues.

“Reno is a smaller market but we put 7,000 people there for an exhibition match against Liverpool U21’s,” said Edwards. “The city sizes complement each other. I don’t think you want to be all in one size or another. Each market has different opportunities and challenges, goals and aspirations to create a real nice mix for what we’re trying to build.”

What the league is trying to build is an interesting question in and of itself. Expansion has exploded for the league with 18 teams being founded since 2014. That number seems radically high but the USL doesn’t appear to have any intention of stopping.

“I think there is a sensible number and I don’t think we intend to put a cap on that,” said Edwards. While joking that the league can expand to “500 markets,” Edwards does give an idea of where the USL wants to settle. “There are a number of markets that we are in discussions with now for ’18 and ’19. Good groups. Good markets. We believe the talent pool can sustain it and we believe we can operate and manage it,” he said. “There will be a point where we stop expanding and that could be in the high 30’s”

Edwards also discussed the expansion of the league’s own office staff to over forty employees to handle the operations. That boom is accompanied with higher aspirations as well – namely, a bump up in their divisional status.

“I think the D2 status, when you consider that in the context of a Nashville market, it’s important,” says Edwards. “We set a goal and we’re aspiring to be one of the top second divisions in the world.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” he continues. “There are some fantastic second divisions out there but we can do that by bringing on world class owners. We’ve got many of those in our league now that have been there and done it at the highest level. Bringing on markets like this (Nashville) that can sustain and can put 10, 15, 20 thousand people in a soccer stadium, that’s the second division we want to be.”

Whether or not The USL can reach that goal remains to be seen. However, they have moved quickly and effectively to spread themselves across the United States, with a clear message and plan on how to accomplish their goals. The USL’s current strategy is a unique one not yet seen in the sport. Where it ends and how it evolves will be one of the most interesting and important stories in the long history of American soccer.

 


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  • El king

    This is going to get very interesting, USL vs NASL. Basically USL is telling NASL to back off and let MLS be division1.

  • Sosa

    Looks like the Third Div Usl’s hopes of D2 sanctioning for 2017 will not happen like I thought. Their fanboys were all excited when they announced they will apply for D2 sanctioning for 2017 season but have been quiet this year as its obvious they won’t get it.

    Usl should remain D3 and fits in well there as Mls’s farm team and affiliate minor league. They have a long way to go still with some teams still averaging in the hundreds of fans a game and their average attendance still in the low 3K range the last few years while D2 NASL has improved each year and recorded record attendance for a D2 league the last 2 years in a row with over a 5900 average for last years record setting season.

    • yankiboy

      Bro, that’s a lot of NASL muscle flexing. I’m not going to call you a “fanboy” because I personally find it a bit disrespectful but c’mon: Miami, Ft Lauderdale??? Those attendances are not anything to be boasting about.

      Even the mighty Cosmos are drawing less than I would expect them to–even stuck at that abysmal temporary stadium that they are currently forced to play at.

      If I had a bunch of coin to play with, and I wanted to start a professional soccer team–I gotta keep it real and say that I’d go USL over NASL–and I watch 3 NASL matches a week on the tizzzube and it’s my favorite league.

      USL looks like they FINALLY got the thing right. The wanting to be second division again kinda cracks me up but hey–if NASL wants to have the delusional dream of being a first division league then I guess USL can try to do some second division type peacocking, too.

  • John

    If only there were some way to determine which teams belong in which level.

    I guess we’ll just have to look at the size of their stadium and their balance sheet, just like FIFA dictates

    • Gotham knight

      Ask garber, he knows.
      But in serious thought, once all MLS teams create a reserve team, then USL should become a division2 with no reserve teams.
      It’s not rocket science but garber needs help in the office.
      MLS1 28-32 teams
      MLS2 25-28 teams
      MLS3 reserve league same # of teams as MLS1
      Promotion/relegation with only MLS2 teams going up and down with reserve spots. For example, spots 31&32 or 28-32 will be reserve for MLS2.

  • EnglishRBNY

    USL is expanding like crazy to beat the NASL to the punch across all the smaller markets. Theyll groom and develop teams that the MLS can then cherry pick as it expands. It looks like a consented effort to squeeze NASL out.

    • EnglishRBNY

      *conserted

      • james w

        whether a deliberate effort vs. some other league or not, the USL is growing like wildfire and expanding well from a soccer and business point of view. They are better than the nasl – beating them 7 games in a row in last years Open Cup, and they have the connection to higher level MLS, plus they don’t have teams leaving for other leagues like the nasl, or teams who can’t pay their people or are folding due to relegation (again like nasl)…

        • Alan Smithee

          USL teams went 2-5 against the NASL in the Open Cup this year so…

  • I support a USL team and am not comfortable with what I am seeing. There appears to be a concerted effort to make teams that have no MLS aspirations to become AAA baseball type affiliates to stay alive. Garber’s desire to crush the game in non MLS markets has legs (it’ll never translate to interest in his consortium: a lot of us in non MLS markets could care less about that league and never will. Why do I need to watch a watered down version of the game when I can watch the best overseas on TV all weekend and then support my team on Saturday night?) “2s” will also have a huge advantage soon as their academies mature. for example, Toronto dropped 8 players form their main roster to play Louisville a few weeks ago (and still lost, which was kinda fun). Indi teams have no pool of players like that to move around. If you are an MSL fan you may not care: You’ve got your McSoccer. But if you have zero interest in MLS like I do, it sucks. It’s all so very Trump.

    • The Don

      I and I alone shall dictate the course of US Soccer. I am the Lord thy Don and what you feel as a fan of a non-MLS team is irrelevant to me. It’s all about selling Pirlo jerseys. We are the NFL of soccer and don’t yo ever forget it.

      Sunil – Off with this heretic’s head!

    • james w

      nothing wrong with supporting your local team, and as you are outside of an MLS market, but over time the league will grow in stature, have better players you’ll want to see, and will develop the future US talent. I think that is the main point of the MLS affiliations, younger player development, and improving overall skill and play thru the levels over time…

      • The Don

        No, the main pointing is crushing the NASL and keeping Michael Bradley employed forever!!!! BWAHAHAHA!.

    • yankiboy

      Bro, you were making really good points–even if I don’t share all of the same viewsome points. Then you went and undermined it with a a confusing and (from where I’m sitting) completely uneeded political reference…

      Thanks for weighing in. I used to be a USL club season ticket holder (also been an NASL and MLS one as well).

      If you are a Louisville fan, how do you feel about that ownership’s desire to make the jump to MLS? Just curious, given how you appear to feel about the league.


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