By Paul Nicholson
February 7 – The fledgling third tier professional division of US football – USL Division III has named FC Tucson as the second fanchise, following the announcement last week of South Georgia Tormenta FC as the first founder member of the league scheduled to kick off in 2019.
The league is projecting to launch with 8-12 teams and said it is ultimately aiming for a three-conference structure similar to its second tier division which has rapidly expanded to 31 teams for the upcoming 2018 season. The formal alignment of the fixture list for 2019 will be released later this year.
Before then the league says that further franchises will be announced in the coming weeks.
FC Tuscon is owned by Phoenix Rising FC, who play in the USL. FC Tucson have been playing in the PDL (the USL’s U23 league) and will be making a natural progression to the new third tier. Tucson will act as a development club for Phoenix.
“FC Tucson’s move to USL Division III demonstrates the visionary ownership that exists within the USL system, and I applaud the club’s leadership for recognizing the opportunity to continue growing their clubs and the communities in which they operate,” said USL CEO Alec Papadakis. “We are thrilled to have FC Tucson as a founding member of USL Division III alongside South Georgia Tormenta FC, and expect the club to continue its tremendous record of success from the Premier Development League.
Phoenix Rising FC acquired FC Tucson in October 2017, forming the leading professional soccer ownership group in Arizona.
“We’re on the front lines of the growth of professional soccer in the U.S., and we see tremendous potential for professional soccer in Tucson,” said Dr. Mark Leber, a member of the ownership group and based in Tucson. “The city has proven time and again, through its successful MLS Preseason tournament and support of FC Tucson in the PDL, that there is an appetite for professional soccer in the market. At Phoenix Rising FC, we intend to continue raising the bar for the quality of soccer in the state, and launching a professional team in Tucson will help us establish a true player development pipeline.”
Jake Edwards, president of the USL speaking to FourFourTwo magazine, did not rule out the possibility of promotion and relegation between its two divisions but said that was a discussion for the future.
“It’s something that’s possible. We’ve spoken already internally. Obviously, at the league office, we’re looking at it. We have an executive committee, which is a subset of our team owners, and they actually even brought it up. We discussed it a little bit. There’s a lot more discussion that needs to take place, but for us, we’ve got to build the structure first,” he said.
“We’ve got to get the right teams, right owners, the right stadiums. We’ve got to build an infrastructure with substantial stability and quality. Any sort of movement between leagues that’s potentially possible needs to have the foundation in place. It’s not something that you can engage in day one.
“Probably a sensible step is to look at an inter-league cup and see how the two leagues interact with each other, and then maybe as we progress we can certainly look at moving teams up and down.”
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