League expansion news and rumors pop up regularly and it is hard to keep track of who said what, where and when. Midfield Press has created the Expansion News & Rumor Tracker as a monthly installment following the word on the web about possible future North American Soccer League (NASL) and United Soccer League (USL) clubs.
Note: With the announcement of USL D3 and the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) we’re shifting our focus to include coverage on possible teams for those leagues, while scaling back Major League Soccer (MLS) and Canadian Premier League (CanPL) coverage. We will still include a high level overview of what is going on with those leagues, but point you to other sources for greater depth.
The past month has seen several new professional soccer franchises announced, and what appears to be a thinning of the herd in the race for Major League Soccer expansion berths 25 and 26.
The North American Soccer League announced its San Diego franchise to start in 2018. San Diego will join the NASL’s previously announced 2018 club, Orange County-based California United FC. It is possible the league may add one or two more teams for 2018.
The United Soccer League landed a Las Vegas franchise after the Las Vegas City Council approved the use of Cashman Field by Las Vegas Soccer LLC. The Las Vegas club will be the secondary tenant in the facility after the AAA Las Vegas 51s baseball team, however the baseball club is known to be looking into a move to a new facility. The USL’s Fresno club joining in 2018 may have had its identity revealed as Fresno FC. Las Vegas and Fresno will join Nashville SC as USL expansion franchises for 2018.
Midfield Press understands that the NASL and USL need to report which clubs will be playing in their leagues for 2018 to the United States Soccer Federation by the end of August. Therefore it is likely any teams to start play in 2018 will be announced by the end of the Summer.
Clubs for the National Independent Soccer Association should be revealed by September, since the new league will need to let USSF know its member clubs for 2018 when it goes for Division III sanctioning in that month.
On the MLS front, those clubs with a clear path to stadium financing are separating from the pack for the 25th and 26th spots in MLS due to be awarded at the end of this year. Sacramento remains a frontrunner, while Cincinnati, Phoenix and Tampa Bay also seem to have their ducks in a row for stadium funding. North Carolina FC and Nashville SC also have positive momentum in the MLS sweepstakes.
A note about where teams/investor groups are located in the below sections: With four leagues across two divisions below MLS, it can be tricky to identify which expansion groups might go to which leagues. In several cases, investor groups are looking at more than one league. There are several groups with long term interest in NASL that may start in NISA, for example. There are groups that might select between the two DIII leagues. There are groups that could go to USL DII or USL DIII. In the case of DIII, I am putting PDL teams under the USL DIII section and NPSL/other league teams under the NISA section. NISA has spoken about interest from PDL clubs and USL DIII has spoken about interest from NPSL clubs, but I expect in the majority of cases NPSL clubs that want to move up will go to NISA and PDL clubs that want to move up would go to USL DIII, due to the type of commercial issues that would have caused them to choose whether or not to be in an USL division in the first place. Regarding whether a potential expansion club is listed under NASL or NISA, that will depend on my sense of where they would start. I’ll indicate in the narrative each group whether it is thought to be looking at more than one league.
The Jacksonville Armada are no longer a league owned team. With Robert Palmer of RP Companies announced as the new owner of the Jacksonville Armada, the North Florida franchise has a future and the North American Soccer League front office checked off one of its major goals for the season.
At the press conference unveiling Palmer, NASL interim commissioner Rishi Sehgal responded to Jacksonville reporter Stuart Webber’s question about adding more teams for 2018 by saying, “Potentially. Some things have to come together, and then we’ll see. There could be some exciting interest for 2018 that is still there and that’s still an opportunity. There’s plenty of time to still launch the club in the right way. In some cases I’ll leave the word launch with a little bit of vagueness. There’s also lots of things moving for 2019 and even 2020.”
With California United FC (aka OC NASL) and San Diego in the fold for 2018, the league has 10 teams officially on board, with one and possibly two more on the way. San Diego NASL executive Bob Watkins shared with Neil Morris on the Inverted Triangle Podcast, “I think, if I am not mistaken, we have announced an eleventh team from our meeting last week. I’m not sure if that has gone out. There is an eleventh team that will be announced here shortly.” Watkins added, “Then we are also looking at a twelfth team, and that might come to fruition. We’ve also found new owners for the Jacksonville Armada. We’re pretty stable at this point. We’ll hit our goal of twelve hopefully by kick off next year, and then we are looking at 2-4 other teams coming into the fray in ‘19 as well.”
The eleventh team that Watkins speaks of as being approved is almost certainly Atlanta. Watkins’ statement is in line with what we’ve heard out of the Board of Governors’ meeting. The possible twelfth team is likely either one of two NPSL clubs that have met with the league, the New Orleans Jesters or Detroit City FC. Since the Jesters and DCFC are existing clubs, it gives context to Sehgal’s vagueness around the word launch when speaking to the Jacksonville reporter. Detroit City is more likely to be headed to NISA, but NASL is likely in the long term future once they can find an investor that is a good fit and meets Division II standards of net worth and ownership stake. New Orleans may be the more likely of the two as the current ownership of the Jesters already meets Division II standards. New Orleans would also satisfy the USSF’s Division II standards requirement of having a team in the Central Time Zone. 2019 would be a safer bet for those two clubs, but if things come together, one or both could theoretically join for 2018.
Sehgal’s comments about the pipeline for 2019 and 2020 are encouraging. In addition to New Orleans and Detroit, Chicago and Oakland are strong possibilities to join the league in 2019 or beyond.
NASL has lost clubs before each of the last two season, however NASL executive consultant Keith Bruce told Midfield Press that the league does not anticipate any teams leaving before the 2018 season. There is an outside chance that NASL could lose another team to MLS in 2020 as it did last season with Minnesota United FC. It also seems likely that FC Edmonton will consider a move to the Canadian Premier League at some point.
Announced NASL Teams
California United FC
Summary: The North American Soccer League formally announced Orange County as its first expansion franchise for 2018. As previously revealed in Midfield Press’s interview with Peter Wilt and Michael Collins, Pete Capriotti, CEO of Cotti Foods, is the OC NASL effort’s primary investor. Cotti Foods is the second largest franchisee of Taco Bell in California, as well being a large franchisee of Wendy’s and Pieology. Collins will be the club’s President for the OC NASL club.
The OC NASL club will likely maintain ties with the L.A. Wolves, using them as a reserve team similar to how NASL teams use NPSL clubs, as well as looking to the UPSL as a source of talent. Wolves owner Yan Skwara is expected to continue to run the UPSL team and serve as the commissioner of that league, which recently implemented promotion and relegation.
Eric Wynalda signed on to manage the Wolves in the run-up to the US Open Cup, and Collins confirmed that Wynalda is the favorite to coach OC NASL. “Our full intention is to have Eric be part of the team for a long period of time. We’re excited to have someone of Eric’s caliber as part of the NASL effort.”
Collins gave a glimpse into how OC NASL plans to build their roster using a combination of local talent and veterans of NASL, MLS or Liga MX. “We plan on bringing 6-8 of the starting players that are presently on the Wolves into the NASL squad. We would continue to look at the UPSL as place to recruit players from.
“We’re also going to look into the college ranks, at PDL and NPSL rosters. I am very well connected into a lot of the local college programs, as is Eric. Between Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine, USD, San Diego State and others, I am very confident that we will be able to get a lot of quality local players. California is bigger than a lot of European countries. I believe we can find a lot of quality players here in the state. It won’t be easy, but it is a great resource.
“We know that the NASL is a very high level of competition. Local recruiting is in addition to bringing in high caliber players, at least one or two from Liga MX. Eric played down there and speaks Spanish fluently and German fluently in addition to speaking English pretty well. We will need to have 4-5 players who have played at the MLS, Liga MX or NASL level.”
The club is currently considering names. One name rumored to be under consideration is California United FC, for which a trademark has been filed, as pointed out by Bill Reese on Reddit.
July 2017 Update: California United FC was confirmed as the name of club by team president Michael Collins during an interview with Neil Morris on the Inverted Triangle Podcast. The club’s crest is expected to be announced soon, and confirmation of Eric Wynalda as California United’s first manager is expected in the near future as well.
Summary: The North American Soccer League announced San Diego as its newest club in June 2017. The investors include professional soccer stars Demba Ba, Eden Hazard, Yohan Cabaye, Moussa Sow as well as agent Alexandre Gontran, marketing executive Vagno Chandara and local San Diego sports executive Bob Watkins. Watkins told the Inverted Triangle Podcast that the San Diego NASL team is privately financing a 10,000 seat modular stadium, expandable to 15,000 seats, in the North County area. Previously Mind Soccer Group spokesperson TJ Zane told a local ABC affiliate that they are “exploring a number of locations around the county for a modular stadium of 5,000 to 7,500 seats. It includes sites in Escondido, Oceanside, and off State route 56.”
Depending on whether the stadium is ready for the opening of the NASL 2018 Spring Season, the club may start off in the University of San Diego’s Torero Stadium before moving into its own facility. The choice to build the stadium in North County gives in the team some separation from the Mission Valley area in which the San Diego MLS group plans to build, as well as from the influence of Club Tijuana in LigaMX.
Watkins told the Inverted Triangle Podcast, “We have made the commitment to where we are going. Our plans are in the process now of being approved through our engineering and architecture groups. We’re putting all of that together. We’ve made the financial commitment, and this is all private financing. What happens is when we see these stadium opportunities that don’t succeed, there is a parlay of public financing, public land and all kinds of things that going into the mix [that need to] get public support. We’re not asking for public support, we’re not asking for public financing. What we are asking for is what the government does and does well, which is the planning process that we would go through with them as partners to be able to achieve what we want to achieve. We’re committed.”
“It will be a 10,000 seat stadium initially. It will be expandable to 15,000 seats. It will all be seats, no benches, nice comfortable seats. We are using an organization called Populous, who has built stadiums all over the world and in the United States. They just did the one in Orlando for the new MLS team in Orlando. So we are using them as architects and our stadium developer is a company out of Europe called GL Events. They are a very well known and a highly reputable group. So we understand what our costs our going to be. We know what they are going to be almost to a penny. We’ve got the financing in place. We did all this before we announced anything. We wanted to make sure that when we had it all done, that the league saw what we were doing, that they approved what we were doing, they approved our NASA plan if you will – you have your primary system, your secondary system and your tertiary system behind you so if you’ve got anything that fails you have support to continue on. We’re in good position. We’re well organized in that regard. We are just in the process now of building a team.”
When asked by Morris if the stadium would be ready by the start of the 2019 season, Watkins replied, “How about April of 2018? If our stadium is completed – it took a little bit longer to get through the approval process with the NASL than we had planned. We had planned on April, which would have given us three months more time. Our schedule is very tight, but we may be in our facility in April of 2018 if all goes the way we planned. We’re very focused on what we are doing.”
Bob Watkins told the Inverted Triangle Podcast that a team name, staff and coaches should be announced within a 30-60 day timeframe.
In addition to the Inverted Triangle Podcast interview with Watkins, to get a flavor of Demba Ba’s vision for the club, Dike Anyiwo’s interview with Ba is a must listen.
More on San Diego NASL: SanDiegoNASL.com and Midfield Press’s interview with Peter Wilt on San Diego.
Public NASL Efforts
Summary: Midfield Press spoke with Trey Brantley, who, along with Southfund Partners, is working to bring NASL and NWSL teams to DeKalb County in the eastern part of the Atlanta metro area. The city of Atlanta is in both Fulton and DeKalb counties.
The Atlanta group launched its official website at ATL2018.com, and shared details on its stadium complex plan. The $200M complex itself will be called Atlanta Sports City, and will consistent of two stadiums, soccer fields for youth tournaments, a 204,000-square-foot indoor athletic facility, restaurants and a hotel. The larger stadium on the site will debut in 2019, and be known as Stonecrest Stadium. The prospective NASL team would play in the smaller stadium for the 2018 season, with the prospective NWSL team joining for the opening of the larger stadium in 2019.
Stonecrest Stadium is described as “a classic soccer stadium in the tradition of Craven Cottage & Stamford Bridge. Rain or shine, our heroes will play the game as it should be played – on a pitch of natural grass measuring 115 x 75 – just as it is in Wembley. The stadium will hold 15,000 rabid soccer fans – an intimate setting that ensures that every seat will be right on top of the action. The park will have all the latest amenities: multiple restaurants, digital signage, video boards & interactive exhibits & games. It’s going to be a great place to watch a game.”
While some have questioned the wisdom of launching a second professional team so soon after the debut of MLS’s Atlanta United FC, the Atlanta group has strong support from community leaders in the eastern Atlanta metro area.
Greg Griffith, executive director of the Georgia Soccer Association told the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “This facility will provide a place for dozens of local tournament and give us the ability to bid on major regional and national tournaments. The proximity to metro Atlanta and the best airport in the country makes this a great location for a sports complex.”
James Tsismanakis, executive director of Discover DeKalb, said “Atlanta Sports City is the definitely going to be one of the biggest economic development projects around.” The AJC reports Atlanta Sports City is projected to draw 3 million visitors annually, create 2000 jobs and has an estimated annual economic impact of $197M.
NASL interim commissioner Rishi Sehgal discussed the possible Atlanta NASL team in depth with Neil Morris on the Inverted Triangle Podcast. “We have spoken with Trey. We are looking at a project that he’s putting together, but I can’t really comment on it much more than that,” Sehgal told Morris. Asked whether it was the discussion was one of several the league is in with expansion groups that are in advanced stages, Sehgal said,“There is a discussion going there, but I wouldn’t say it is one of the advanced discussions.”
Sehgal shared some of the league’s thought process as it evaluates a possible return to the Atlanta market. “I’m not saying that we would… It is something that we are working on and seeing if it makes sense with Trey. If we’re going to be in a market with another team at any level, we want to make sure that that team is going to succeed. Not just, OK, I will do this and I think it will succeed. We want to be convinced that it will succeed. If we go back to Atlanta, they will have made a very compelling case to our ownership that says they can operate a team that can be successful alongside the incredible success that Atlanta United are having.”
“I think it is a very big market. When the Silverbacks were operating, I don’t think they captured a significant portion, or any portion or that market’s attention. I think there was a lack of a marketing budget. There were folks who lived in close vicinity to the stadium who had no idea there was a professional team there. I have a connection to the Atlanta area. I went to college there. So I know Atlanta reasonably well, though it’s been a few years since I’ve been out of college. Atlanta is a big market, and there is a lot of traffic there. One of the things that we know about soccer is that it is a local game. You’re going to draw most of your fans from the near vicinity of the stadium. So I think there is the potential in Atlanta, and in other markets around the country, for more than one professional team. Now that team, when it launches, has to do something to mean something to the community and they have to do things to earn the community’s trust and the community’s support to really become part of the fabric. So that will be part of the calculus as we look at Atlanta. But otherwise from just a pure market standpoint, there is incredible corporate support in Atlanta, it’s a huge media market, it has all sorts of demographics that trend well for soccer. Lots of millennials, huge multicultural market, not just hispanics, but people from all over the world who love the sport. So it is something we would look at, but it has to be done the right way, frankly as every market has to.”
The Atlanta group is targeting a Spring 2018 debut.
July 2017 Update: Midfield Press understands that Atlanta is very likely the eleventh team that Bob Watkins referenced as approved at the June Board of Governors meeting.
Summary: The Chicago NASL effort is still alive and well even with Rebel Nest LLC’s focus on launching NISA.
Rebel Nest LLC is working with Club 9 Sports to bring an NASL team to Chicago. The idea is for the team to play in the city of Chicago, which would allow it to provide an urban alternative to the suburban MLS Chicago Fire. The key issue needing to be resolved before Chicago is accepted into NASL is finalizing their venue.
Peter Wilt shared details on the club’s planned supporters trust with the Flakoglost Podcast. The supporters trust could own as much as 10% of the club. “We have the legal work all done. We have a supporters trust board of directors in place, 5 persons. They have met regularly, about once a month. We give them updates. We are very transparent with them. The concept is to sell eventually 3000 shares at $500 a piece plus a season ticket. Those folks would get a vote in who [the supporters trust’s] five board representatives are, and one of those five will be a representative on the team’s board, and they’d have a full vote on everything we do. They would have transparency into our business and they would have actually more than 1/7th vote on certain issues that are critical to fans. For example, maybe changing the team colors or changing the team’s name… something like that would have to be approved by the supporters trust board. So it’s exciting. I love that idea, because it engages the fans. Not only those 3000 shareholders that become vested in the team, but really all fans of the team become vested because they’ll have a sense that this is the people’s team and it belongs to the community.”
The team solicited fan suggestions for its official name and colors on its web site, and they will narrow down the finalists and allow fans to vote on the name. The classic NASL moniker Chicago Sting is likely to be one of the options, having received a plurality of votes in the initial survey. Other fan suggestions included Chicago City SC, Municipal Chicago and Wild Onion FC.
Midfield Press spoke with Peter Wilt in February regarding various NASL expansion projects he is involved with, including Chicago NASL. Peter provided an update on the Chicago effort. “For a while we’ve been in the position that we have three different investors that want to be the controlling partners, but we don’t have a venue that meets our minimum standards. Usually it is the other way around.”
“We have to be in the city. There’s one existing venue that could make sense. We are pursuing two other options. One is a developer who is working to build a 15,000 seat stadium privately for us. Aside from that or using an existing venue, the third option is privately building a modular stadium on a to be determined site.”
The group continues to work on five venue options, one existing venue and four potential sites for a stadium. Peter Wilt told Bruce Silverman that they should get word on one of the potential venue locations within a few months.
July 2017 Update: Peter Wilt shared an update on the project with Midfield Press: “We’re still working to secure a venue and focusing on new construction. Would be privately funded. Looking at several sites, but focusing on one that would be part of a multi-sports campus adjacent to an L stop.”
NASL Rumors With Multiple Sources and/or League Commentary
Summary: Sports Illustrated reported that one of the expansion groups looking to join the league is based in Baltimore. The city has long been on the NASL radar. Baltimore was expected to be part of the new NASL when it began in 2011, but former USL franchise Crystal Palace Baltimore failed after the 2010 season in USSF D2 before it could join the league.
The league’s sponsorship deal with Baltimore-based Under Armour in 2016 led to speculation that UA founder Kevin Plank or someone else with ties to Under Armour might launch a team. This speculation was fanned by reports of Under Armour’s plans for a new 50-acre campus include a 7,000 seat waterfront stadium.
Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated and Michael Lewis of Big Apple Soccer listed Baltimore among the cities with expansion groups in discussions with the NASL. In a tweet, Straus mentioned that Bill Peterson hinted to him that the Baltimore group was led by foreign investors.
A Baltimore NASL bid could find itself in a race to market versus a USL bid. A report emerged in the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun in March that a Baltimore investor group could be closing in on USL expansion.
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Summary: Midfield Press learned that the Las Vegas Football Club group is working to bring professional soccer to Vegas. The investor group consists of local business leaders committed to bringing pro soccer to the area, and they are sufficiently capitalized for either a NASL or USL bid. It is not clear whether the group will choose NASL or USL, and a suitable venue is the main hurdle in the group’s way at this point. In addition Las Vegas FC, the group also has registered the classic Las Vegas Quicksilvers name.
July 2017 Update: Midfield Press understand the Las Vegas FC group is likely to discontinue its efforts to bring pro soccer to Vegas, with the USL’s Las Vegas Soccer LLC group successfully accomplishing that goal. Because of that, we will remove Las Vegas from the NASL section going forward, unless there is news in the future that would put Vegas back on the NASL radar.
Summary: Michael Lewis of Big Apple Soccer listed New Orleans among the cities with expansion groups in discussions with the NASL. Midfield Press received word from multiple sources that the New Orleans NASL group reported on in December was the NPSL New Orleans Jesters. The Jesters ownership is understood to surpass the DII requirements for ownership net worth. One source shared that representatives from the Jesters were in attendance at the NASL semi-final in November.
Midfield Press received a “no comment” on NASL interest through the NPSL, and we were told the Jesters presence at the semi-final was only due to the partnership between the leagues. However, we feel that this is a situation that continues to bear watching.
July 2017 Update: Midfield Press understands from several sources that the New Orleans Jesters are one of the groups pursuing NASL expansion. While the Jesters are more likely to join NASL in 2019, there is an outside chance of them joining the league in 2018. There are several possible venues the Jesters could use in New Orleans, but it bears keeping in mind that owner Dana Stumpf is in the construction business. Meaning, she could get a better deal than most people on getting a stadium built. The Jesters have not responded to multiple requests from Midfield Press for comment.
More on the New Orleans Jesters: Jesters official site.
Midfield Press in touch with a source close to the Oakland Pro Soccer group. The group is assessing venue options in the city of Oakland, as well as league options. They have released a grassroots survey at OaklandPro.Soccer. They are looking for feedback from soccer fans in the Bay Area. Peter Wilt confirmed Club 9 Sports’ involvement with an Oakland/East Bay effort but described it at very early stages. Brian Helmick confirmed that an Oakland NASL group is in the early stages during an interview with Midfield Press before the Cosmos-Deltas game on April 29th.
July 2017 Update: The Oakland continues to work towards its goal of bringing pro soccer to the city.
More on the Oakland group: OaklandPro.Soccer
British tabloid The Sun reported that Celtic FC looked at putting a team in NASL. Boston, Detroit and Hartford were cities Celtic FC considered according to an in-the-know Big Soccer poster. Boston may be blocked due to a marketing agreement between Celtic FC and the Boston Celtics. Celtic Underground reported the club executive Peter Lawwell was involved in talks with NASL. Celtic Underground’s @celticrumours twitter account mentioned hearing talk of Philadelphia and the West Coast as locations the club was eyeing.
In 2016, we examined the most logical landing spots for Celtic NASL, however nothing says they will follow the logical path.
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
The National Independent Soccer Association is a new league being created by Peter Wilt and Jack Cummins of Rebel Nest, LLC to serve as a Division III league. The league is planned to start play in Spring of 2018. Peter Wilt said in our interview with him on NISA in June that the league would be working with teams through the summer months and preparing for sanctioning from USSF in September.
The long term aspiration of NISA is to partner with the NASL and a professional Division IV league to create a promotion and relegation system. Initial discussions of a Division III league were had with NASL and NPSL last Fall. A partnership to create a pro/rel system consistent with global soccer leagues would provide participating leagues a differentiated product offering from the major league / minor league baseball-like system being developed by MLS and USL. No formal agreements are in place as of yet between NASL, NISA, NPSL or any other leagues.
One of the stated objectives of NISA is to promote teams to the NASL through the expansion process until the NASL populates at a limit of something like 20 teams. Under this plan, relegation from NASL to NISA would not start until the Division II league is fully populated. NISA expects to fully populate faster than NASL, as the barriers to entry to create a Division III team are lower than for a Division II team.
The NISA Twitter account provided an updated count of committed clubs, “13 Letters of Intent have been submitted and several more are under review. Formal applications, vetting & fees thru August.”
Not all of those clubs will start play in 2018, however. “Still looking at 8 to 10 for 2018. Expect to grow quickly with many in the pipeline,” Wilt stated on Twitter.
Please bear in mind the the rest of the NISA section is speculative due to the early stage of the league… Speculative list of candidates for the 8-10 initial NISA clubs:
Summary: In an interview with Midfield Press, FC Buffalo indicated that they are actively pursuing investors to help them take a step up to professional soccer.
A Buffalo NISA twitter account appeared online, suggesting there may be a group looking to bring pro soccer to the western New York city.
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Summary: Chattanooga FC expressed satisfaction with their current model in NPSL and dismissed talk of a move to a pro league in the past, however there was never a league like NISA as an option before.
When asked about a potential move up to NASL or USL last October, Chattanooga GM Sean McDaniel told us, “To go up a level, we have to really ask ourselves what do we hope to do with this. A lof markets want to move up to try to land an MLS team. Chattanooga is not ever going to have an MLS team. So there is no hurry on our part to go up any levels. Our long term vision is to teach others in other cities how to do this the way we’ve done it so we can all play soccer in front of lots of people in the Summer. We are speaking with Peter Wilt as to what we want to do at an amateur club level compliments what he and Club 9 Sports are doing in terms of consulting at the professional level.
“For a market like Nashville, they are making the right choice. That is a big league sports town. In Chattanooga, it costs $7 to show up to a soccer game. We don’t want to burden the fan by doubling or tripling ticket prices. We don’t want to “forget the date that brought us to the dance”, so to speak. We want to keep the right equation together in terms of cost and value.
“Going up is something we may consider one day. Right now we want to take the model and keep expanding on it without burdening the fan any further.”
With attendances regularly in excess of the 3000, Chattanooga FC meets the model for sustainability in the NISA.
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Detroit City FC
Summary: Detroit City FC is the club most heavily speculated to be joining NISA. The move appears to enjoy support from the club’s fans. NISA would seem to be a great fit for DCFC, which draws stronger attendances than most DII clubs and is well ahead of Peter Wilt’s projected 3000 per match necessary for sustainability in the NISA model. Moving to NISA would fit with the club’s objectives to play more games and play on a national stage.
Detroit City co-founder Sean Mann shared with Midfield Press in November that the team is working on a move to a full season professional soccer league is and talking with both USL and NASL, as well with the MLS bid group led by Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert. Mann said “We have been very open that we’ve been talking to investors about going up to the professional ranks in the near term. We want to play more games, and play on a national stage. We have a fan base that deserves that. In terms of which league, we are having those conversations with our investors and that is a focus of this offseason.”
In September 2015, a Detroit expansion group presented at the NASL Board of Governors meeting alongside San Francisco and OKC, according to reporter Sulaiman Folarin. The group was reportedly not connected to Detroit City FC.
A Detroit group was named by Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated as being in advanced discussions with the NASL about expansion. 551 reported that Detroit the group in discussions with NASL is not Detroit City FC. “I can’t really comment on who the group would be,” said Rishi Sehgal to 551. “I can say that Detroit is a market that we’ve been interested in for a long time.”
“Personally, I have a vested interest in Detroit, having grown up in Toledo. We’re all aware about the excitement that Detroit City FC is bringing. I went to one of their games as a fan two years ago and it was amazing. The success they’ve had building a crowd and a community, and the improvements to their stadium, speaks to the strength of their project. Whether they’re a group that comes in or it’d be a different group isn’t something I can comment on.”
Detroit City FC has been in “extensive talks” with NASL, according to the club’s co-owner Todd Kropp, however they are not set on the league. “The soccer landscape in the U.S. continues to evolve every day. There are still a lot of details that need to be clarified regarding the D-2 and D-3 leagues so we can’t really say right now that there’s any particular preference,” Kropp told Crain’s Detroit Business.
July 2017 Update: While we believe Detroit City FC is bound for NISA, there is an outside chance they could land in NASL.
Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated and Michael Lewis of Big Apple Soccer listed Hartford among the cities with expansion groups in discussions with the NASL. Straus mentioned the Hartford group as in advanced discussions with the league. Our sources told us the group is not Hartford City FC, the new club starting play in the NPSL this year, and that a Hartford NASL expansion team would be several years out. A renovated Dillon Stadium would likely be the target location of an NASL expansion team in Hartford, though any group looking to do that would have to contend with baggage left over from the prior attempt to renovate Dillon.
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Summary: Early stage efforts are underway to bring a pro soccer team to Milwaukee. “Oakland and Milwaukee are at the very beginning – they are among the dozen markets we’re having discussions,” Peter Wilt shared in his interview with Midfield Press.
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Summary: Omaha is one of the markets confirmed to be under consideration for a place in the initial season of NISA. Former executive director of Nebraska City Tourism, Tim Pendrill, is a leading figure in the effort. Pendrill told the Omaha World-Herald of his efforts vs the efforts of the AAA baseball owner Gary Green to bring USL to the city, “My focus is on Omaha just getting soccer. It’s not a competition for me.”
Pendrill might find kindred spirits in another group that is looking to bring pro soccer to Omaha. National Sports Services has tapped Ren Smith, a former executive with the Omaha Nighthawks UFL team, to do the work on the ground to bring a pro soccer team to Omaha. Smith has lined up investors, and met with potential venues including TD Ameritrade Park, Creighton University, the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the proposed Nebraska Multisport Complex in La Vista, according to the World-Herald.
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Summary: The Foundry St. Louis MLS group, which has been passed over as the preferred MLS bid in favor of SC STL, replied to my tweet asking them if they’d consider starting up a team in another league such as NASL by saying, “Yes. We already are” and “Details forthcoming when the #SCSTL dust settles.”
A subsequent Twitter exchange between the group and a fan indicates they are continuing to work on plans for a professional soccer team in St. Louis, though they are holding off announcing anything to not distract from the MLS bid.
With the St. Louis MLS bid fizzling out after the ballot measure to fund a stadium failed, the opportunity could emerge for the Foundry STL group to pursue their plans to bring a high level of soccer to the city. Given that the SC STL group is the preferred MLS bid and that Saint Louis FC already exists in USL, NASL or NISA would seem the obvious choices if Foundry St. Louis were to launch their own pro soccer team.
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
More On Foundry St. Louis: http://foundrystlouis.com/
Speculative list of other NPSL & other lower league teams that could be a good fit for NISA in 2018 or beyond:
Summary: Albion SC operates a large youth academy and an NPSL team called Albion SC Pros. Starting the NPSL was a step towards their next goal, creating a full season professional side to give them a full development system from youth ranks to pro soccer. Albion SC CEO Noah Gins spoke about the club’s pro soccer intentions in an interview with Midfield Press back in January, when Albion was bidding for a club in the NASL. NASL interim commissioner Rishi Sehgal acknowledged that the league had been in discussions with two groups in San Diego when speaking with Neil Morris on the Inverted Triangle Podcast.
July 2017 Update: While the Mind Soccer Group won the San Diego NASL bid, Midfield Press believes that Albion SC remains a club with ambitions in professional soccer and thinks that NISA could be a good fit for them in the future.
More on Albion SC: Albion SC Pros official site.
Summary: New NPSL club FC Arizona, based in the eastern part of the Phoenix market, has set a goal to join NASL within the next 2-3 years. In an interview with the American Pyramid blog, FC Arizona founder Scott Taylor said, “Five year goal, we really hope to have been in the NASL for 2 or 3 seasons by then, keeping the NPSL team for development, etc. I decided the NPSL’s connection to the NASL was important. Never really considered the UPSL. Although I’m sure that it has it’s place in some markets, it wasn’t for us. We do have very big plans. But, first things first. Year Number 1 must be done right.”
Scott Taylor reiterated his intention to bring his club up to NASL to Midfield Press in our recent interview with him. “Rather than talk, we would rather show people what we can do. We definitely have a vision, and we plan to execute that vision based on what we know has worked with other clubs in other cities, but tailored to our market. We plan on doing things the first year right and seeing how the community responds at the gate. Yes, I have 2 very, very large local investors waiting to see how 2017 goes and if it goes well they are all in.
“I have exchanged emails with the NASL front office, they are aware of us. We are interested in breaking down some barriers in US Soccer, that just because a team isn’t in MLS, doesn’t mean they are not quality. That is how the public perception is, and we plan on changing that in a big way.”
July 2017 Update: FC Arizona finished the NPSL regular season undefeated, with 12 wins, 0 loses and 4 draws, with a remarkable +44 goal differential.
Boston City FC
Boston was cited as one of the MLS markets that is underserved by its club in Peter Wilt’s article for Howler Magazine last Fall, and Boston City FC is a club that has shown ambition, opening up a second team in Brazil. Could Boston City be a fit for NISA?
Last November, we asked Boston City FC Managing Director Craig Tornberg if they’d taken a look at moving up to NASL or USL. “We have ongoing discussions, but as I mentioned, we are affected by the changing US soccer landscape. We regularly receive calls from people who represent teams, leagues, players, international clubs and many of those end as soon as the call ends, while others might promise something down the road. Right now we are enjoying playing in the NPSL, the biggest league in the country with more than 80 clubs and are proud to be a part of that group.”
Tornberg spoke about a changing landscape, and NISA is part of the new landscape going forward that could be appealing to an ambitious club like Boston City.
A Charlotte group with intentions to put a team in a third division pro soccer league emerged on Twitter this past month. Midfield Press contacted the group and was told that they will provide updates in the future. It is unclear USL would allow a DIII club in the same market as a DII club, so we are listing Charlotte FC under NISA for the time being as it seems like the option that would make the most sense, and the Twitter account went up around the same time as the NISA announcement.
Summary: We followed up on Peter Wilt’s comment to the Inverted Triangle Podcast last year that he was working with a group that wanted to bring pro soccer to Cleveland. Wilt said of Club 9 Sports, “There are groups in a dozen markets that we talk to on a regular basis including Cleveland. Some are closer to becoming real than others. I think Cleveland at some point is going to make a fantastic market but there’s nothing imminent at this point.”
July 2017 Update: Midfield Press has learned that there is a group talking to USL about bringing a Division II team to Cleveland. It is not apparent that the Cleveland group has any connection to the one Peter Wilt mentioned previously.
Dayton, Ohio has been home to a Division III team once before, in the form of the Dayton Dutch Lions of USL. The Dutch Lions moved back to PDL years ago. Could Dayton’s next shot at the pro game come from the NPSL’s Dynamo? Dayton is within driving distance of some of the best attended soccer teams in Division II, with FC Cincinnati only an hour away, and Indy Eleven and Louisville City within two and a half hours drive. If the Dynamo could tap into a little of that magic, they could make it in DIII.
Electric City Shock (Scranton, PA)
In a Twitter exchange, the Electric City Shock of Scranton, PA indicated they have an investor to support a move up to the professional ranks, however venue options in the area are an issue. The Scranton, PA metro area has a population over 500,000 and has supported AAA baseball and AHL hockey for many years, so it is not a stretch to think it could support professional soccer at a Division III level. Land in the area is pretty abundant, so a modular stadium solution could be a good fit here.
Summary: Celtic-affiliated Lansdowne Bhoys of the Bronx/Yonkers area of New York indicated an intention to go pro by 2018 amidst their US Open Cup run. It is unclear that USL would accept a team that is essentially in the backyard of NYCFC, so NISA might make the most sense for the Bhoys.
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Little Rock Rangers
Little Rock may be an ideal example of a Division III market. The Rangers have a great venue at their disposal in War Memorial Stadium. The team has drawn well in their first two years of NPSL, so reaching the 3,000 per match mark of sustainability in the NISA model is not a stretch. There is not a lot of professional sports competition in the 700,000 person metro area. The Rangers would need to add an investor who met DIII standards to make the leap, but there are a lot of puzzle pieces in place already.
Summary: Jonathan Tannenwald reported that the owner of the American Soccer League’s Philadelphia Fury, which plays in the South Jersey suburb Glassboro, is looking to partner with investors to bring a NASL team to the Philadelphia market. The Philadelphia Fury is a classic NASL brand.
Midfield Press connected with Philadelphia Fury owner Matt Driver in September for an interview updating the status of the club’s NASL ambitions. Driver continues to work on getting investors for a NASL move but there is currently not investment in place. He is working with Jack Cummins and Club 9 Sports as consultants to help him with his NASL plan.
Driver understands that playing in a stadium in Philadelphia or close to the city, such as Campbell’s Field in Camden, would be critical to the success of a Philadelphia NASL team. In terms of his own role in the NASL club, Driver sees himself as a potential Sporting Director while leaving the business operations to other partners. He sees the American Soccer League, which he runs today, as a potential talent feeder for the Philadelphia Fury.
July 2017 Update: Division III is an easier step up for a lower league club like the Philadelphia Fury, and with Matt Driver having been engaged with Club 9 in the past, NISA seems the better fit among DIII leagues due the to Fury’s previously stated NASL ambitions. Joining NISA would put the Fury one step closer to their ultimately goal.
San Francisco City FC
Last year, Evan Ream reported that San Francisco City FC had new investors that intend to take the team to a professional league by 2018. More recently, Ream reported that USL president Jake Edwards told him that a Bay Area group has submitted an expansion application to USL, but that team is not San Francisco City FC.
Evan Ream shared on Twitter that the Bay Area group he discussed is interested in putting a USL team in San Francisco, while repeating that the group is not San Francisco City FC of the PDL. If USL were to proceed with a team in San Francisco, with the Deltas in the NASL, it would seem SFCFC would not have many options to go pro.
July 2017 Update: San Francisco City FC reiterated their long-term professional ambitions in an article with the San Francisco Examiner earlier this month. The Examiner piece cites a desire for the club to join USL and later MLS. However with the recent announcement that San Francisco FC is in talks with that league, SFCFC may have to look elsewhere. With the Deltas in NASL, and the future San Francisco FC having the inside track on USL, NISA may end up looking like a good fit for City. Another area where NISA and San Francisco City FC are aligned is around the idea of supporter ownership in the club.
Nashville, Las Vegas and Fresno appear set to join USL in 2018. Birmingham is targeted for a 2019 start, and a USLsoccer.com article states that the league is in discussions with eight more groups to join in 2019 and 2020. Baltimore, Northern Virginia (D.C. United II), San Francisco and Omaha among the markets with groups strongly linked to USL Division II. Midfield Press has learned that there is a Cleveland group in discussions to join USL DII in a future season as well.
USL is looking at a three conference format for either 2018 or 2019, according to NewsOk. “We’ve been working toward a three-conference structure,” USL commissioner Jake Edwards said. “We are going through that process right now with our competition committee to decide whether or not 2018 is viable to jump into an East-West-Central conference structure or whether it makes sense to do that in 2019.
“We will have a couple of new markets coming into the league in 2019 that will I think make a three-conference model a certainty. We are looking at whether we do it in ’18, but I know we will definitely have it in ’19.”
At its current rate of growth, USL DII could reach 36 teams by 2019 or 2020. However there could be some subtractions from USL in the works as well, with Phoenix Rising FC, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, FC Cincinnati, Nashville SC, San Antonio FC, Saint Louis FC and the Sacramento Republic all targeting the four MLS expansion slots (the first two of which join MLS in 2020). There is also a strong likelihood that the Ottawa Fury will move to the Canadian Premier League at some point.
As for USL DIII, Tormenta FC of South Georgia posted stadium renderings, while Lansing, Michigan and Fort Wayne, Indiana look like potential USL DIII markets. Longtime PDL club the Des Moines Menace also look like a strong fit for USL DIII. PDL clubs remain the most likely candidates for a move up the ranks to USL DIII, with the Long Island Rough Riders, Albuquerque Sol FC and FC Tucson among those expressing an interest in going pro in the past. USL DIII is scheduled to start in Spring of 2019.
Announced USL DII Teams
Las Vegas Soccer LLC will launch a USL team for the 2018 season. The final hurdle for the group was cleared when the Las Vegas City Council approved its use of Cashman Field. The USL club will serve as secondary tenants in the facility to the AAA baseball Las Vegas 51s, and will cover the costs of converting the field between sports during the season.
“We’ve been saying this for many, many months,” Lashbrook told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We’ve been having lots of meetings behind the scenes and talking to a lot of stakeholders around the community, we believe Las Vegas is a soccer city, and we believe we will prove this. Not only is it a soccer city, but that it will support soccer toward records numbers.”
Las Vegas Soccer LLC was previously reported to have trademarked the name Las Vegas Lights, however there will be a naming contest to determine the ultimate name of the club.
More on Las Vegas USL.
Summary: Nashville SC was born from the former supporter owned NPSL club, Nashville FC. Last year, DMD Soccer acquired Nashville FC and was awarded a USL franchise for 2018. There had been two groups seeking to bring pro soccer to Nashville, and the other one started as a NASL bid led by Bill Hagerty and evolved into an MLS bid. In May, John Ingram and Nashville Soccer Holdings acquired a majority stake in DMD Soccer, bringing the USL expansion franchise under the banner of the MLS group.
Chris Jones, one of the founders of Nashville FC, will serve as the GM of the Nashville USL club. Nashville SC hired Soccer United Marketing executive Court Jeske as their first CEO. Jeske told The Tennessean that his “No. 1 goal is to get the word out, make sure that people in Nashville and Middle Tennessee understand what we are doing and be a part of the community.”
MLS Cup winning manager Gary Smith was confirmed by the club as the first head coach of Nashville SC. “I have been involved in soccer all of my life, and this is a wonderful opportunity to build both the soccer culture and technical foundation of a club,” Smith said. “The fans and support throughout the city will be an integral element in our drive for success. To see how the team has been embraced is very exciting.”
Meanwhile, Nashville SC is working to build its organization in Tennessee. The first signs will be when Nashville SC U-23, which replaces the NPSL team, debuts in PDL this year. “Obviously the PDL is our first jump with the Nashville SC brand,” Chris Redhage told USLsoccer.com. “We’re looking to build the foundation, identifying our core values, identifying our vision and beginning to push that out at the amateur level. Our hope is that it builds our foundation so in 2018, when we come into the league, we have a rabid fan base that already understands what Nashville SC is about, where we’re going and what we want to accomplish.”
“Our partnership with the Tennessee State Soccer Association has been really successful,” Redhage said. “We’re working hand in hand. A lot of these things take a while to build, but when you’re building a foundation, you’re building it not for today but for the future, so that’s what we’re excited about.”
Redhage told USLsoccer.com that they have reached over 3000 season ticket deposits.
July 2017 Update: Nashville SC’s MLS ambitions got a boost this month when Don Garber came to town and said, “Over the last six months, Nashville has really risen pretty high on the list.” In addition to learning more about Nashville’s expansion bid, the MLS commissioner was in town to catch the US-Panama Gold Cup match, which served as a showcase for the team in the market.
More on Nashville SC
Semi-Announced USL DII Teams
Summary: Scratching The Pitch reported Birmingham, Alabama as a potential USL city along with their own rumors on Nashville and San Diego USL teams. The site reported that a link between the Birmingham Hammers NPSL team and the USL bid is not evident.
Rumors of a Birmingham USL team picked back up on Twitter from local podcaster Maddux Mullinax, suggesting there will be announcement before the end of the year. Mullinax reported that a USL team is a done deal and is likely to play out of BBVA Compass Field at the University Alabama Birmingham, and that the team is looking for a coach with MLS experience.
Nipun Chopra of Soc Takes reports that Birmingham and Memphis are USL targets as the league seeks to expand its footprint in the Southeast.
A Washington Post interview with Jake Edwards in May stated that Birmingham was expected to finalize a deal this summer to join USL for the 2019 season.
July 2017 Update: Birmingham mayor William Bell told the Birmingham Business Journal that “details are still being worked out at this time” on a USL team that could start in 2019. Open issues include the venue the team would play in, according to the Business Journal report. The mayor hopes to be able to participate in an announcement in the coming months.
The Fresno Bee reported that the USL has approved a bid from local businessman Ray Beshoff to bring a Fresno team to USL Division II in 2018. Beshoff told the paper that he paid a $5 million expansion fee.
“Everything ended up great,” Beshoff told the Bee, “and now we’re excited and going to spend the next couple of months bringing together a world class club.” Beshoff started to fulfill that promise by signing veteran soccer executive Frank Yallop as the team’s General Manager.
The Bee said that potential stadium locations for the team include Bulldog Stadium, Fresno State’s Soccer & Lacrosse Field and Chukchansi Park, where the PDL Fresno Fuego play.
Previously, Evan Ream reported on Twitter that the USL will likely expand to Fresno for the 2018 season, and that the group will not be the PDL Fresno Fuego. The group could look to acquire the Fuego brand, however.
July 2017 Update: Bill Reese reported on Reddit that the group has registered the name Fresno FC along with a potential crest the club could use. It remains to be seen if this is the final name for the club, although that typically is the case when trademarks are registered.
Tacoma (relocation of Seattle Sounders 2)
Summary: The Sounders have signed a memorandum of understanding with the Tacoma Rainiers AAA baseball team to develop a 5,000 seat soccer stadium that would serve as the future home of the Sounders USL team, according to USLsoccer.com. The club would transition to a model similar to Reno 1868 and Rio Grande Valley FC, where the Rainiers would run the business operations and the Sounders would run the soccer operations.
“We are absolutely thrilled to be moving forward with the Tacoma Rainiers and City of Tacoma, progressing toward construction of a soccer-specific stadium,” said Adrian Hanauer. “Our vision of having players begin their time with the club playing at Starfire with the Academy, then move up to the USL team with matches in Tacoma, before finally getting the call-up to the First Team at CenturyLink Field – all while playing within the Puget Sound region – really reinforces our commitment to bringing quality soccer to the communities of Western Washington.”
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Dormant USL DII Teams
Summary: The Austin Aztex have been on hiatus since the 2016 season their home field, House Park, was damaged in flooding. The club does not seem to have made much progress towards getting back on the field.
“There is no suitable stadium. Until there is, the Aztex won’t field a team,” Bobby Epstein, chairman of Circuit of the Americas and a majority investor in the Aztex, told the Austin American-Statesman.
Club owner Rene van de Zande told the Statesman, “Nothing is formally confirmed, but taking the suitable soccer venue needs into consideration, 2018 has become a more realistic target.”
“I want Austin to have pro soccer,” Epstein said. “If there was a stadium, the Aztex would be playing now.” The Statesman reports that the club found University of Texas’ Myers Stadium too expensive, while they have also ruled out playing in high school football stadiums because they wouldn’t be able to generate revenues from alcohol sales. The paper reports that there has not been progress on the offer extended by the Austin Huns rugby club to share a stadium with the Aztex.
“I’m probably out of the stadium-building business,” Epstein said. “We’ll keep looking for long-term solutions.”
USL president Jake Edwards told MLSsoccer.com that the club is working on getting a stadium built in Austin. This runs counter to prior comments from Bobby Epstein that he is “out of the stadium-building business.”
While reporting on USL’s ascension to D2, the Austin American-Statesman got a quote from owner Rene van de Zande that may hold a flicker of hope for fans for pro soccer in Texas’s capital. “Yes, 2017 is out,” van de Zande told the paper. “The Aztex are in continued discussions with the league to return in 2018.” The venue continues to be the issue holding back the return of the Aztex.
July 2017 Update: “The Austin Aztex of the United Soccer League remain grounded by financial woes,” writes the Austin American-Statesman in an article promoting a friendly between two Liga MX clubs at the Dell Diamond in Round Rock.
More on the Austin Aztex.
Public USL DII Efforts
Summary: Paul Tiburzi, a lawyer and the former chairman of the Camden Yards Sports and Entertainment Commission, is a leading figure the effort to bring a USL team to Baltimore. The target start date for the team is the 2020 season, which would give the group time to follow through on its plan to build a 8,000-10,000 seat stadium in the city. They are currently scouting the Fells Point and Canton areas for possible locations.
“Things are progressing nicely,” USL President Jake Edwards told the Baltimore Sun. “We feel really good about what we have in place.”
“The fans there deserve a quality stadium to watch the game in and support their team in, and that’s exactly what we want to put together,” he said. “We don’t want to do this with any half-measures.”
In an article in the Washington Post in May, Steve Goff asked Edwards if expanding to Baltimore was a near certainty, to which the USL President said, “yes.” The Post article also indicated that the Baltimore group plans to start an academy.
The Baltimore Bohemians PDL club shut its doors for the 2017 season. The official statement left on the Bohs website: “As of the 2017 season, the Baltimore Bohemians Soccer Club will be on hiatus until further notice. We are taking this time off to refocus our efforts on bringing a legitimate professional franchise to this great city.”
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
The owner of Omaha’s AAA baseball team, Gary Green, is looking at becoming the lead investor in a USL franchise in the Nebraska city. Green told the Omaha World-Herald that, “I think there’s a pumped-up demand for soccer in the city.” Green describes the effort as in “exploratory stages.”
San Francisco FC
Summary: Evan Ream reported that USL president Jake Edwards told him that a Bay Area group has submitted an expansion application to USL, and that he will visit the area in two months as the league is interested in being in the market. In a follow up tweet, Ream said that the group was not the PDL club San Francisco City FC, which has previously expressed interest in joining a professional league.
Evan Ream shared on Twitter that the Bay Area group he previously discussed is interested in putting a USL team in San Francisco, while repeating that the group is not San Francisco City FC of the PDL.
July 2017 Update: Soc Takes broke the news that Jordan Gardner of the Burlingame Dragons is partnering with Zappos founder Nick Swinmurn to bring a USL team to the San Francisco Bay Area. The club, to be called San Francisco FC, is targeting a 2019 start so that it can take time to find the right venue for its needs.
The group is looking at constructing a modular stadium in either San Francisco or in San Mateo County, where the Dragons currently reside, and hopes to leverage local rivalries in USL with Sacramento, Reno and the upcoming Fresno team to help build the fan base.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the team is looking at a parcel of land just south of San Francisco International Airport, near Bayside Park in Burlingame. The plan for the site would include a 6,000 seat stadium, expandable in case additional capacity is needed in the future, and possibly with views of the San Francisco Bay.
“Our ambitions are big,” Nick Swinmurn told the Chronicle. “But big doesn’t always mean going to the biggest league you can find. It means creating the best soccer experience that appeals to all kinds of fans. You have to assume that bigger is not always better.”
Rumored USL DII Teams (larger market bids associated with USL or bids specifically linked to USL DII)
Summary: Midfield Press has learned that there is a group talking to USL about bringing a Division II team to Cleveland. It is not apparent that the Cleveland group has any connection to the one Peter Wilt mentioned previously. The USL group’s team would not start play in 2018, and is an effort for 2019 or later. We will provide more details in a future update.
FC Dallas 2
FC Dallas has been rumored to be interested in starting its own USL squad for a while. Jason Davis reported that Dallas’s reserve squad may debut in either 2017 or 2018. Will Parchman reported that Dallas has preliminary plans to put a team in USL in 2018.
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
DC United II
Summary: DC United is planning to launch a USL reserve team in 2018, according to a report from Steven Goff of the Washington Post. The model for the USL franchise would follow New York Red Bulls II.
Steven Goff included a bit on DC United II in his article on USL expansion, indicating that DC2 could join USL DII or DIII, and that the likely locations are George Mason University or a location in Loudoun County.
“We continue to work through that project with D.C. United,” Jake Edwards said. “I know they’ve got a lot going on right now with the new [MLS] stadium, but they did submit a nice application to us. It might take a little bit longer than all parties expected, but they remain committed to it.
“They’re going about it in the right way. They want to do things at a very high level, so if that’s means we go from 2018 to ’19, that’s fine. No one’s in a rush.”
Clearly if DC United II joined USL in 2018, it would be a DII team.
July 2017 Update: Nothing new
Grand Rapids FC is in talks with investors about a move up to USL, according to Michigan Live. Costs for an 8,000 seat soccer stadium for the club are estimated at $40M. “It has been a lot of work the past couple months but it has also been great,” team owner Matt Roberts said. “I think the evolution of soccer in West Michigan is just going to keep moving forward.”
“The next step is a major one and that is to get the financial backing to get it done,” he said.
July 2017 Update: Grand Rapids was cited as a possible USL DII or DIII market in a recent article in the Grand Rapids Business Journal. The article states that USL DIII chief Steven Short met with a number of Grand Rapids leaders including “West Michigan Sports Commission President Mike Guswiler, Grand Rapids Griffins President Tim Gortsema, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Chief Strategy Officer Paul Rumler, The Right Place Vice President of Strategy Rick Chapla and Grand Rapids Football Club President Matt Roberts. The pair also met with West Michigan Whitecaps executives, including CEO Lew Chamberlin and president Scott Lane.”
“When we look at expansion cities, we have to understand the soccer culture from the youth leagues all the way up to high performing amateur leagues to measure the desire for professional soccer,” Short said. “And hats off to GRFC; they’ve built a team from the ground up and what they’ve done has been unbelievable. For a USL team in this market, I would want it to be done the exact same way. They built support organically and have become a fabric of the community there.”
West Michigan Sports Commission President Mike Guswiler said of Grand Rapids FC, “As you move up leagues, I think the talent level changes and so do the field requirements, so I think there’d need to be some adjustments. There’s no question that the current group would want to take that on and be a part of it, and I think that makes the most sense when it comes to taking the model of what GRFC has done and bringing it to the next level.”
Summary: Nipun Chopra of Soc Takes reported that Birmingham and Memphis are USL targets as the league seeks to expand its footprint in the Southeast.
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Albuquerque: In an interview with Midfield Press earlier this year, Albuquerque Sol FC set a target of 2018 for a move up to professional soccer. Albuquerque is more likely to go to USL than NASL due to their status as a PDL team, a league which is owned by USL. However they would not rule NASL out.
The Albuquerque Sol hired a consultant to do a feasibility analysis on a 5,000 to 10,000 seat stadium in the city. “The goal has always been said 2018 to go what’s called USL pro, which would be the equivalent of say the Isotopes,” said General Manager for Albuquerque Sol, Larry Espinoza, told KRQE. The club is looking for investors to help fund the stadium.
Albuquerque Sol owner Ron Patel continues to make progress on his efforts to bring a soccer specific stadium to town to support the addition of a USL club. According to KRQE, the city will spend $15,000 to investigate the benefits of a stadium.
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Bahamas: Local businessman Burton Rodgers is leading an expansion effort to bring a USL team to the Bahamas, according to a report in Tribune 242. The prospective club would play in 15,000 seat Thomas A. Robinson Stadium, in Nassau. Rodgers’ group is working with Anschutz Entertainment Group, the government, the National Sports Authority and the Bahamas Football Association to bring the vision to life. One drawback to the group’s plans is that the island nation has a population of just under 400,000, well short of USSF Division II standards.
“Mr Rodgers is in the midst of preparing a bid to attain a pro franchise for the Bahamas and AEG is fully committed to assisting him in ensuring that he has the best means and support to bring a said franchise to the Bahamas and we are very excited to assist in that regard,” Alan Kates, Managing Director of AEG Bahamas, told The Tribune. “I would say that there are numerous hurdles to cross and I know that Mr Rodgers is preparing with the assistance of some wonderful global supporters to ensure that the best possible presentation is made to the USL and to ensure that he has the best bid to see.
“He is in the beginning stages of this. I would safely say that the Thomas A Robinson Stadium would be a premier venue for a professional soccer team. Of course, AEG has connections in the soccer world and sports and entertainment business, so we are more than confident in putting this forward with the support of the Bahamas Football Association and the government of the Bahamas. Realistically it is in the very early stages, but there is rapid progress being made in taking it to the next level.”
The Bahamas group is targeting a 2019 kickoff in USL.
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Boise: Boise could be the home of a USL team soon, either an independent club or a Portland Timbers affiliate. T2 and Swope Park Rangers played a match in Meridian, Idaho, near Boise, to test the market. The owner of the Boise Hawks minor league baseball team is looking to build a new 5,000 seat ballpark in downtown Boise that is touted as also being a potential home for a minor league soccer team, based on a report in the Idaho Statesman.
Idaho is considered Timbers “territory” in MLS terms, and the club already has partnerships with youth programs in the state. Portland executive Gavin Wilkerson shared the club’s plans to develop the Idaho market further with USLsoccer.com: “We want to look at a way to eventually have more games in Boise and in Idaho and then eventually will the league, will USL, allow us to have another team there? Is it a viable business decision? These are questions that we’ll be asking ourselves. This is definitely a trial match. It has many, many purposes and we’re very happy with the initial response.”
“We’re at the exploratory phase of going down this path,” Wilkinson said. “There’s conversations with the USL. There’s conversations about how we could be involved if we weren’t able to run the USL team in Idaho. What we’re looking at, in all honesty, is we’re exploring all avenues and all options.”
An article on the Idaho Business Review outlined several details of how pro soccer may unfold in Boise. Bill Taylor is leading a local group of investors who want to bring pro soccer to town.
“We will have serious talks starting in July (with government people and potential investors),” Taylor said. “The energy is legitimized. There is a return on investment now. Now you can go to people who are not necessarily soccer people. Now we just have to go to the next level with our government people.”
The article goes on to explore several locations in the Boise area where a stadium could be built. The mayor of Boise, David Bieter, is on board with the idea of a stadium. “Downtown needs a multi-use sports facility,” Bieter said. “I’m convinced that a public private partnership that brings minor league baseball and soccer as well as concerts and other events to downtown will pay great dividends.”
USL President Jake Edwards referenced the Portland Timbers’ interest in moving their T2 team to Boise in an interview with Sports Illustrated in October 2016. Speaking of the model of providing soccer operations for an independent local ownership who handles the business side that is being followed by San Jose with Reno and Houston with Rio Grande Valley, Edwards said, “I think more and more MLS teams are looking at that. Portland are looking at an independent group we’ve put together in Boise. Seattle is looking to partner with a group in Tacoma. I think this will be a model we see more of. It certainly makes sense toward achieving everyone’s goals. Some [MLS] teams will still be committed to that ‘second team’ structure, and maybe that will work for them. Where we are now with this partnership and this affiliate model isn’t where we’re going to be in a couple years … It won’t be a dramatic shift for next season but I think you’ll see some changes for 2018. Whether they’re MLS-owned or independent teams, if they’re not able to meet the standards and operate a team and create an environment at the level we require, they won’t continue.”
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Des Moines: Longtime PDL club the Des Moines Menace are looking at a move to USL DIII. “We are interested in and evaluating a move to the USL’s Division III,” Menace General Manager Matt Homonoff told USLPDL.com, “but we must research the potential move in more detail before officially deciding.”
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
El Paso: MountainStar Sports Group is reportedly working to bring a USL team to El Paso. MountainStar owns the El Paso Chihuahuas AAA baseball team as well as FC Juarez across the Mexican border.
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Fort Wayne: The former owner of the PDL team the Fort Wayne Fever, Bobby Poursanidis, is looking at bringing professional soccer to the Indiana city, according to the Journal-Gazette. Poursanidis is considering both Division II leagues as well as USL DIII and NISA.
“My head spins, there’s so many possibilities,” Bobby Poursanidis said. “I will definitely look at the options and make some decisions, just what makes the most sense going forward financially.”
Poursanidis also mentioned that there are “a couple MLS groups interested in partnering with us.”
Lansing United: Lansing, Michigan was another step on the USL’s DIII tour, and Lansing United of the NPSL could be interested in a move up to a Division III league, according to the Lansing State Journal. NISA is also a possibility.
“For me to do this, I’ve got bring in investors, at least a couple with deep pockets,” Lansing United owner Jeremy Sampson said. “One of the minimums for D-3 is an owner with at least 35 percent stake that has $10 million in assets.”
“I don’t have anywhere near close to that kind of (money),” Sampson said. “I’m bringing to the table an intellectual property that will now have four or five years of branding.”
Long Island Rough Riders: Peter Zaratin, president of the Long Island Rough Riders, proposed to build a $8M-$10M soccer complex on the grounds of Suffolk Community College with the intent of sharing the facility between a Rough Riders USL team and the school, according to a report in Newsday.
“We are looking to be a feeder for Major League Soccer,” Zaratin told the paper, adding, “Long Island does not have the demographics for a major-league team.” The Rough Riders would be looking to fund the project with a public-private partnership that did not require any funds from the college, and would be looking for a 40 year lease and a revenue sharing agreement on tickets, food and retail sales. Investors would include Mitchell Rechler of Rechler Equity Partners and David Howard, a sports executive who has worked for the New York Mets and served as president of MSG Sports.
The Long Island Rough Riders PDL team is affiliated with New York City FC. NYCFC recently entered into an USL affiliate arrangement with San Antonio FC, though the Texas club’s MLS ambitions likely make that a short term relationship.
A USL club on Long Island could tap into some of the fan base left behind by the New York Cosmos, who moved to Brooklyn.
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
Tormenta FC: South Georgia PDL club Tormenta FC are looking at a move to USL DIII. “I believe that this part of the United States is ready to embrace the next step in that process,” Tormenta owner Darin Van Tassell said. “Ultimately, the franchise exists to win championships and be a successful business enterprise. At some point, we need to build our own stadium here in Statesboro. And as we grow the youth side of our club, the ability to partner with a USL or MLS franchise would be a wonderful evolution for soccer in our part of the state. We have already partnered with three clubs in Europe, and those relationships promise to bear fruit as well. Great things await, and we are just getting started.”
July 2017 Update: Tormenta FC unveiled stadium renderings for a complex it plans to build in Statesboro, Georgia. The facility would be built with 5,000 seats and would be expandable to 10,000.
Tucson: “We believe the time is right for the Tucson market to move up to the USL,” FC Tucson managing partner Greg Foster told the Arizona Daily Star. “We have a huge head start because our venue, Kino Stadium, is already in place.”
Foster told the publication that FC Tucson’s ownership has formed a steering committee to find investors to back the move to USL. “We’ve been running our PDL team like a USL team,” said Foster. “We believe we can significantly increase our footprint.”
“A USL team often has as many as four or five MLS players at a given time,” said Foster. “If we get a wholly owned affiliation, it would be a merger of our brand with an MLS franchise.”
Previously Midfield Press spoke with Rick Schantz, who signaled FC Tucson’s future intent on pro soccer.
Rick Schantz resigned as the head coach of FC Tucson to take on an assistant coaching role with Phoenix Rising FC. Schantz will remain in the ownership group of FC Tucson.
July 2017 Update: Nothing new.
FC Wichita: FC Wichita has ambitions to join USL, according to the Wichita Eagle. The NPSL just finished up a successful regular season in the semi-pro league.
“We don’t feel like it’s that far of a reach,” Wichita co-owner Blake Shumaker said. “Right now we have a great following among soccer fans in Wichita, but what we would like to do is to make our games for everybody in Wichita and that’s the next step for us. We want to be able to put 5,000 in the stands on occasion and I don’t see any reason why we can’t.”
“We already operate pretty much as a professional team,” Shumaker said. “We’re No. 4 in the power rankings for a reason and that’s because we run a quality program. Players like coming here because they know they’ll be competing for a championship and they’ll have eyes on them. They’re seeking a professional environment to further their careers and that’s what we give them.”
“Are we going to be able to afford to buy into the league? Can we afford the travel budget of playing nationally, instead of just in the Midwest?” said Larry Inlow, the team’s director of operations. “We would have to pay salaries for players and coaches. If all of the stars align and everything comes exactly the way it’s supposed to, then it’s a possibility. But it’s always going to come down to the financial aspect.”
In an interview earlier this year with Midfield Press, Shumaker spoke of potential investors to help with a professional move and stadium upgrades planned to support a professional soccer atmosphere.
Six months on from MLS’s application deadline for its next four expansion franchises, the investor groups continue to jockey for position. Some initial frontrunners like St. Louis and San Diego have been dealt setbacks, while longer shots at the start of the process like Phoenix and Nashville have made a strong case.
It seems unlikely that a fifth spot, the one due to David Beckham for his Miami project, will become available. Marcelo Claure, one of David Beckham’s partners in the Miami MLS project, wrote to the Miami Herald that the ball is now in MLS’s court to officially grant them a franchise now that land has been secured for their Overtown stadium plan.
Midfield Press continues to believe two factors are most important for the 12 applicants looking to land an MLS expansion team: ability to get a soccer-specific stadium built, and television market size. But don’t take our word for it. “If a very promising market can’t have a stadium, they’re not going to be an MLS expansion team,” Don Garber said while visiting Nashville, according to the Tennessean.
While it might be unwise to count any of the bidders out for slots 27 and 28, the front runners berths 25 and 26, to be awarded at the end of this year, must be those organizations with a clear path to financing a soccer specific stadium. Sacramento Republic, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Phoenix Rising FC meet that criteria.
Some groups outside of the 12 bidders have started making noise about MLS expansion again. Oklahoma City Energy owner Bob Funk spoke to NewsOk about their stadium plans in the context of a long term pursuit of Major League Soccer. Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman feels her city is “back in the hunt” for an MLS team as part of the news around the new Las Vegas USL club to be launched next year. It is hard to see how either group should be taken seriously unless the league decides to reopen bidding for spots 27 and 28, or until it announces it will expand to 30 or 32 teams.
- FC Cincinnati president Jeff Berding spoke about the club’s MLS bid with Neil Morris on the Inverted Triangle Podcast. On the issue of the stadium, Berding told Morris that the club’s first choice is to build in Cincinnati, and they are confident they can get that done. However, if they cannot, they have a Memorandum of Understanding to build a stadium on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, directly across the river from the Cincinnati Reds stadium. Tax Increment Financing available on the Kentucky site would close the funding gap needed to get the stadium done.
- Sacramento Republic sought input on its MLS stadium plans from fans. Sacramento is still considered to be among the top candidates for MLS expansion, according to most sources.
- SoccerNation took a deep dive inside Phoenix Rising’s MLS stadium plan.
- San Diego appears to be all but out of the running for teams 25 and 26, since their stadium plan will not be put on the ballot until November 2018.
- Nashville now ranks “pretty high on the list” according to Don Garber, who said that the city was not considered a favorite when the process started.
- Detroit’s MLS bid attracted the ire of supporters of the popular NPSL club Detroit City FC, after a Crain’s report revealed the group trademarked the name Detroit City SC. It is unclear that the trademark would hold up if challenged, as it is a clear attempt to benefit off of the goodwill built by Detroit City FC in the market.
- San Antonio seems to be targeting berths 27 and 28, according to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff in remarks to KSAT. “We kind of think we have a better shot at the third and fourth pick, and when we don’t know when that would be — possibly sometime next year. We just don’t know for sure.”
- Bay News 19 reported that the Tampa Bay Rowdies feels they are among the top four contenders for MLS expansion.
- Charlotte’s MLS bid presented to the mayor and City Council in preparation for a revised request for stadium funding. MLS Charlotte investor Marcus Smith plans to put up half of the money needed for a stadium, and wants to get the other half from the city and county. This meeting with the mayor and city council comes on the heels of a visit to the city by MLS executives.
- North Carolina FC unveiled its plans for a downtown Raleigh stadium site during MLS’s visit to the area. WRAL reports that the North Carolina FC stadium plan does not include taxpayer funding at this time, though they may look at asking to tap into funds from prepared food and beverage taxes that is meant to aide downtown development. The Raleigh site is current government land, and the team would need to lease the land from the government under terms not yet determined.
- Indy Eleven’s MLS hopes still look grim after the Indiana State Assembly concluded its session without passing funding for a stadium.
- Another plans could be afoot for what was to be the St Louis MLS stadium site. That being said, if I were one of the other bidders, I would look at the St. Louis bid as the movie monster that isn’t dead until its buried in the ground due to MLS’s historic efforts to get into St. Louis.
With some bids dropping off for berths 25 and 26 and repositioning themselves for spots 27 and 28, we’ve split the categories up to reflect who are contenders for both rounds and just the later round.
- Bid 25+26 Leaders: Sacramento, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and Phoenix
- Bid 25+26+27+28 Contenders: North Carolina and Nashville
- Bid 27+28 Contenders: San Diego, San Antonio and Detroit
- Pretenders: Indianapolis, St. Louis and Charlotte
As we focus our efforts on growth at the DII and DIII level, Midfield Press recommends checking out Blue Testament’s MLS expansion coverage.
Canadian Premier League
The Canadian Premier League is official. Hamilton and Winnipeg FC were the first clubs confirmed during the historic announcement of the league, which will have Division I status in Canada. Steve Sandor reports that the target start date for the Canadian Premier League is July 22, 2018, a week after the World Cup concludes. A minimum of six clubs would be required to start in 2018. However, if the league feels it is not ready, the will wait until 2019. A Saskatchewan team is not one of the “first six” according to Paul Beirne, and would be more like team seven or eight.
Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps will remain in Major League Soccer, but the futures of the Ottawa Fury and FC Edmonton outside the CanPL are less certain. The initial CanPL press release from Canada Soccer indicated interest from 10 cities.
Duane Rollins reports that the Canadian Premier League may play in a single table format versus having playoffs. Previously Rollins, who was ahead of the curve in reporting about the Canadian Premier League, tweeted that the CanPL may implement promotion and relegation after hitting 16 teams.
- The Halifax CanPL bid ran into some issues with the modular stadium plans, though given how quickly those pop-up stadiums can go up, it is not clear that this would actualize jeopardize them for a CanPL start date of August 2018 or Spring 2019.
- A Saskatchewan CanPL bid is materializing, though it is not clear whether the group will settle on Regina or Saskatoon. The friendly at New Mosaic Stadium in Regina between Valencia CF and the New York Cosmos serves as a test of that market. In the long run both Regina and Saskatoon could have clubs, as Paul Beirne advised fans in the other Saskatchewan city “Don’t get too attached.”
- Calgary is also thought to be a near certainty to feature in the Canadian Premier League.
- Former Canadian international Rob Friend has been linked to an effort to bring the CanPL to Fraser Valley.
- PDL club K-W United would like to bring CanPL to the Kitchener-Waterloo region.
- Other possibilities could include Victoria, Quebec City, Moncton and a team in the greater Toronto area.
- Toronto FC has expressed interest in having their reserve team join, however the Canadian Premier League is reportedly not interested in MLS reserve teams.