USL expansion rumors for 2019
Author’s note: Expansion stories keep changing. I have personally been working on this piece since March of this year, and formulating it has been a nightmare. This is the fourth iteration of this expansion piece. Finally, I’ve decided on the format of ranking them by likelihood of USL expansion for 2019. Nashville, Fresno and Las Vegas are expansion teams for 2018, and are beyond the scope of this piece. A discussion about a possible 2018 MLS-2 team is included herein.
Soc Takes first broke the news of the likelihood of Memphis to USL back in December of 2016. Three months ago, a source told Soc Takes that due to the depressed financial situation in Memphis, an USL team seemed very unlikely.
Yet, here they are on in the “very likely” (Read: Done deal) list. Why? Multiple sources have informed Soc Takes that the Memphis Redbirds group are involved in the ownership structure. The ownership group has stakes in the NY Yankees and recently purchased majority interest in the Memphis Redbirds – a AAA team in the city. Soc Takes understands that along with the financial backing of The Redbirds ownership, USL values the Memphis market due to its ideal geographical location – within driving distance to other markets which will be in its (eventual) central conference.
For now, team is likely to begin the 2019 season at their own AAA stadium. Although, discussions are ongoing about a soccer-specific stadium.
While multiple sources have informed Soc Takes that Birmingham is a ‘done deal’ for 2019, the identity of the ownership group is not certain. Soc Takes was informed by two sources that Birmingham Barons ownership is behind the Birmingham bid. A phone call to Birmingham Barons ownership was not returned.
Soc Takes has received conflicting information regarding the involvement of Birmingham Hammers – currently in the NPSL – in the ownership structure of Birmingham USL. Soc Takes understands the USL expansion announcement could be made locally on Tuesday, August 8th at an invite-only press conference. (Update on 8/8/17 – The Birmingham-USL team will indeed be announced today!).
Baltimore is a key unexplored market on the East Coast. Home to The Ravens and Orioles, Baltimore, the 29th most populous city in the nation, has a growing youth soccer community, and is a strong candidate to be a USL team . Soc Takes understands that the ownership group involves Kevin Reid – cofounder of Virtustream. Reid is based out of Bethesda, Maryland and has apparently owned sports teams before. A phone call to Virtustream was not returned.
Interestingly, Baltimore was originally expected to involve the Wilmington Hammerheads group. A source close to the story confirms that there was a meeting between Hammerheads ownership and potential local investors. Although that particular trail seems to have gone cold.
San Francisco Football Club (SFFC)
As current Burlingame Dragons GM, Jordan Gardner, revealed in an exclusive to Soc Takes , their group lead by owner Nick Swinmurn have applied for an USL expansion team called SF FC. Their current plan includes building a modular stadium and may include some yet-identified additional investors. Soc Takes understands their bid was discussed at the recently concluded BoG meeting in Chicago; and while SF remains a very attractive market, concerns about the status of SF Deltas were raised. Regardless, given the importance of the market and experience of the ownership, difficult to see this not happening.
Northern VA (DC United)
The big concern for this bid was securing a stadium site. Earlier this year, plans were to play at George Mason University while, in turn, helping fund a stadium and training facilities. The most recent information given to Soc Takes suggests that a modular stadium in Loudoun county, Virginia, will be the site of training and games for the DC United 2 team.
In a recent press release, USL stated “10 teams owned and operated by MLS organization are also set to return in 2018, with the potential of one more addition to the group pending final stadium approval.” While Soc Takes is unable to say with certainty, based on status of other MLS-2 projects, the aforementioned team is likely to be DC United 2.
Ron Patel, President of Albuquerque Sol FC, informed KRQE news that the team is interested in USL expansion.
A source informed Soc Takes that representatives of the Albuquerque group attended last year’s USL meetings to better understand the operational algorithm associated with setting up a professional DII team. At this moment, the bid is believed to need more investors as well as a viable stadium plan.
Soc Takes spoke to Patel. He said, “We’re working really hard to figure out what the long-term stadium will be. There is an option of a temporary stadium that might meet USL requirements.. We’re not there yet, but we are working towards making this happen.”
(This is a map of the expansion cities discussed herein. Green indicates 2018 teams, while blue indicates ‘very likely’ 2019 teams.)
As journalist Chris Peter reported , Omaha is interested in bringing an USL team to Nebraska. Soc Takes was informed earlier this year that these conversations were “preliminary”. Based on that, 2020 was considered more likely than 2019. Soc Takes contributor, Jeff Kuhns, wrote an informative opinion piece explaining why Omaha is ready for professional soccer.
Soc Takes understands there were previously discussions about moving Swope Park Rangers to Omaha as well. The status of these discussions is unknown.
Chris Kivlehan reported that Cleveland is a potential USL expansion team, although the time-frame (2019 or later) wasn’t indicated. Soc Takes has not been able to independently verify Cleveland as a potential USL market.
Another ownership group that owns minor league baseball teams, per a well-placed source. While the ownership group is understood to meet Division II ownership requirements, the missing piece appears to be a stadium. Soc Takes understands ownership is interested in a multipurpose venue in downtown Boise.
Unlikely, but previously discussed
Minnesota United 2
Minnesota United 2 will need to formalize a partnership with someone as MLS requires an association with an USL team. There were conversations about launching a team in Richmond, Minnesota, but the status of those conversations remains unknown.
Soc Takes understands USL is interested in Tucson as a market. FC Tucson ownership is on the record as coveting an USL move. Last update given to Soc Takes suggested that additional investors may be required to meet Division II standards.
Soc Takes understands FC Tucson personnel spoke with various owners at the 2016 end of year league meetings about the costs associated with operating a USL franchise.
A source informed Soc Takes in May that conversations with Hartford had taken place, but these conversations are not believed to include the current Hartford City NPSL team. Challenges include limited possibilities for corporate partnerships (outside of Lego) as well as no stadium plan. The identity of ownership also remains unknown.
Others have speculated on Dallas II, Bahamas and El Paso. Soc Takes does not have additional information on any of those bids.
Current NASL teams
Multiple sources have confirmed to Soc Takes that conversations between USL and NASL teams took place towards the end of 2016, as well as in early 2017. These teams include Indy Eleven, Miami FC, North Carolina FC, Puerto Rico FC and San Francisco Deltas. Understanding is that none of those teams is imminently poised to make a switch to USL.
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