August 2 – The fast expanding United Soccer League (USL), part of the professional tier of US football below the MLS, will play a longer season in 2017. The league that starts matches at the end of March will now run for 30 weeks with teams playing 32 games.
The USL’s growth has been impressive, more than doubling in size since 2014 to 29 teams. It has 29 teams playing in 19 states, including three Canadian clubs this season.
The 2016 season has seen the introduction of six teams – Bethlehem Steel FC, FC Cincinnati, Orlando City B, Rio Grande Valley FC, San Antonio FC and Swope Park Rangers – and will add Reno 1868 FC in 2017 and Nashville FC in 2018.
Played in two conferences – Eastern and Western – teams currently play a 30 game season over 27 weeks. The top eight teams in each conference qualify for the play-offs. Teams also compete in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup where they come across MLS sides.
But USL expansion isn’t being capped. Jake Edwards, USL President, has said that a third conference will be introduced in the near future. This raises the prospect of more teams as the league expands its national footprint in the US.
The new 32 game schedule will allow each team to play its conference opponents home and away with extra games against local teams rounding out the schedule.
“After evaluating a number of proposals the League and its Competition Committee agreed on several changes that we felt would deliver value to our clubs through the extra home match,” said Edwards.
“Also, lengthening the season gives us greater flexibility to create a more balanced schedule with less midweek matches. We will continue to build our national footprint with a focus on regional rivalries and a roadmap to a three-conference alignment in the very near future.”
A number of teams in the USL are the reserve sides of MLS clubs. In the Western Conference Vancouver Whitecaps II currently lead the division ahead of LA Galaxy II after 20 games. In the Eastern conference Louisville City lead New York red Bulls II by a point but have a game in hand.
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