Midfield Press Lower League US Pro Soccer Expansion Tracker – November 2019 Edition
As lower league soccer comes to a close in 2019 with USL Championship playing its Semifinals this weekend, USL League One crowing North Texas champions, and NISA playing its East and West Finals early in November, the rumors will start to heat up. While the USL Annual Meetings will be held December 10-12 in Orlando, NISA will hold its Board of Governors meeting in November. It is expected that they will listen to the applicants that submitted their bids before the November 1st deadline. The NPSL will also hold its Annual Owners Meetings in Nashville on November 15-16. It is possible we learn some of the teams that will be participating in next years newly announced longer season. There will also be the annual game of musical chairs between all of lower league soccer in the United States and most likely (hopefully not) a new lawsuit or two. Below are the most up to date rumors and confirmations for 2020 and beyond.
The biggest positive news for USL Championship expansion in the past month was that San Diego USL effort unveiled its brand, San Diego Loyal SC. The Landon Donovan and Warren Smith led effort kicked into high gear to get ready for the 2020 season.
On a negative note, the rumors around Fresno FC turned out to be true. Just a few days after they were eliminated from the playoffs, Fresno FC released a statement announcing that they will not return next year. The team’s owner is in negotiations to move the franchise to Monterey Bay, which may also coincide with a drop to USL League One.
The possibility of bringing a USL team to Rhode Island inched closer to reality as the process for evaluating bidders for the McCoy Stadium site in Pawtucket advanced. The AAA baseball team is moving to Worcester, MA for the 2021 season. A USL group, a NISA group and an Atlantic League baseball group are among the bidders.
San Diego Loyal SC (ETA: 2020)
USL San Diego was officially announced in June 2019 with a group led by Warren Smith, co-founder of Sacramento Republic FC, principal investor Andrew Vassiliadis and USMNT legend Landon Donovan. Donovan will serve as General Manager and potentially could serve as Head Coach. The club will start playing out of Torero Stadium in Mission Valley for the 2020 season.
November 2019 Update: The brand San Diego Loyal SC was announced, with the logo pictured above.
East Bay (ETA: 2021?)
East Bay was announced by USL Championship on December 18, 2017 and are scheduled to start playing in 2021. Led by Mark Hall, a real estate-oriented entrepreneur based in Northern California and the President and CEO of Hall Equities Group, USL East Bay is looking to build 15,000 seat stadium in Concord, CA.
Sports360AZ reported in August that a USL team would be debuting in Oakland for the 2020 season alongside teams in San Diego and Baltimore. While San Diego is confirmed and Baltimore is somewhat out of the blue, the East Bay effort could easily be confused with Oakland.
Along with the news on Frenso FC’s uncertain future, Midfield Press’s Chris Kivlehan reported that the East Bay effort is looking at the possibility of starting play in 2020 out of Diablo Valley Community College’s stadium.
November 2019 Update: Oakland Roots star Jack McInerney gave a post-game interview in which he said, “This team, I know, is looking to get in USL next year.” A Roots official subsequently denied this was the case, telling Midfield Press’s Chris Kivlehan, “The Roots are 100% committed to NISA.” The territory rights held by the East Bay USL group would be a blocker for the Roots to join USL, even if they wanted to do so.
Boise – (ETA: 2021?)
Agon Sports and Entertainment, owners of the Boise Hawks Minor League Baseball team, announced in January of 2019 they signed a franchise agreement with USL. However, this deal is contingent on the construction of a stadium. If successful, USL Boise would be only the second current professional team in Idaho joining the Hawks.
Cleveland – (ETA: ???)
Once announced to have an MLS expansion team for the 2005 season before the prospective owner passed away, Cleveland looks more likely to have USL in its future. Shaw and Greg Adams, who purchased the rights the the Cleveland Force name (an indoor team that averaged between 11,000 and 14,000 for most of the mid 1980’s), seem to have settled on a piece of land near Progressive Field. The Cleveland City Stars averaged around 1,500 fans when they were in the USL from 2007-2009 winning the second division title in 2008 before folding following a last place season in 2009. Midfield Press is also aware of another group that wants to bring USL to Cleveland.
Des Moines – (ETA: ???)
On September 18, Jeff Rueter of The Athletic reported Kyle Krouse, CEO of Kum & Go convenience stores, reached an agreement with USL Championship to bring a team to Des Moines, Iowa contingent on a new stadium being built. Krouse is the owner of the Des Moines Menace, a highly successful USL League Two team, but it is unclear if that would be the name of Championship side. However, The Des Moines Register the next day stated the public funding being sought is unlikely to happen: “no way they will contribute the amount promoters sought — $30 million — to build the stadium.”
Baltimore – (ETA: ???)
Baltimore has long been linked with a USL franchise with recent rumblings coming from the Baltimore Sun. USL CEO states “the question is not if, but rather when will they join the American professional soccer landscape” but just like many expansion projects there seem to be issues in building a soccer specific stadium. Baltimore is currently home to NPSL club FC Baltimore Christos who play their games at Essex Community College.
Sports360AZ reported in August that a USL team would be debuting in Baltimore for the 2020 season alongside teams in San Diego and Oakland. While San Diego is confirmed and the East Bay effort could easily be confused with Oakland, there has not been much of substance elsewhere recently on a Baltimore USL team for 2020.
Milwaukee (ETA: ???)
Colton Coreschi reported that there is currently a group that owns the territory rights to Milwaukee. It is possible that it could be the same owners as Forward Madison of League One and Green Bay Voyageurs of League Two.
Queensboro FC (ETA: 2021)
Midfield Press first reported on the project to launch a USL team in the New York City borough of Queens in 2018. Led by soccer star David Villa, the effort includes Jonathan Krane, CEO of KraneShares, as the majority owner. According to Pablo Maurer of the Athletic, Queensboro FC plans to start playing in 2021 at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets while the long term goal is to have a privately funded stadium in Willets Point.
Rhode Island – (ETA: ???)
Anytime a AAA baseball stadium is vacated, you can expect to see minor league soccer executives pulling in for a look. While NISA prepares to launch a club in Providence in Spring 2020, the USL also has its eyes on the market and specifically McCoy Stadium. The Pawtucket PawSox will be leaving the Rhode Island town just outside of Providence, moving to a new stadium in Worcester, Massachusetts. Six groups offered proposals to use McCoy after the AAA baseball team vacates, according to the Providence Journal.
November 2019 Update: NBC 10 News reported that during a closed-door executive session portion of a Rhode Island Commerce Corporation meeting, a committee recommended city and state officials begin negotiations with the bidders for the use of McCoy Stadium. One of the bidders, Fortuitous Partners led by Phoenix Rising investor Brett Johnson, wants to bring in a United Soccer League franchise to a renovated McCoy. Another bidder is AJAX Advisors, the NISA group.
USL League One
USL League One played its Inaugural season with 10 teams. However, a few days after a successful season, Lansing Ignite closed their doors for good. With the additions below coupled with Lansing’s loss the league currently sits at twelve teams for the 2020 season. On a recent League One Fun podcast, Ryan Madden said the league was close to the number of teams for 2020 but would not use the word exact, meaning we could see one or two more teams being announced or coming from USL Championship.
Union Omaha – (ETA: 2020)
Union Omaha will start play in USL League One in 2020 and released its colors and crest on October 3rd. Their home stadium will be Werner Park, a minor league baseball facility they will share with the AAA baseball Omaha Storm Chasers. The two teams have ownership in common.
Reserve teams for the New England Revolution and Inter Miami have been confirmed for the 2020 season.
Returning From Hiatus?
Penn FC – (ETA: 2020 or 2021?)
Penn FC, previously known as the Harrisburg City Islanders, was one of USL’s longest-running clubs. They went on hiatus for the 2019 season with the expectation of returning to the field in 2020 as a member of USL League One. The Penn FC website still suggests the club will return in 2020. However, there has been little news to that effect leading to speculation that their return may be deferred similar to the Rhinos.
Rochester Rhinos – (ETA: 2021?)
One of USL’s most storied clubs, the Rochester Rhinos went on hiatus for the 2019 season and that hiatus appears as though it will extend into 2020 according to comments from team president Pat Ercoli on the Uncle Sam Soccer Podcast. The Rhinos were originally announced to return to USL in 2020 as a member of USL League One instead of the Championship.
Long Island – (ETA: ???)
A mixed use real estate development project in Suffolk County, Long Island led by NHL Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine could involve a stadium for a USL League One team, per Front Row Soccer. The proposed $1.1 billion real estate project near the Ronkonkoma Long Island Rail Road station could see a convention center, medical facilities, office buildings added along with a 7,500 seat arena and a 6,000 seat soccer stadium.
USL League Two’s Long Island Rough Riders used to compete at the top level of USL, and have been linked in recent years to a jump up back to professional soccer (original Big Apple Soccer article no longer online). New York City FC have also been linked to adding a reserve team in USL around the 2021 time frame. It is not clear either are involved in the project, but either or both could make sense as the soccer side of the operation.
Monterey – (ETA: 2021)
One possible resolution to the issues facing Fresno FC could involve the franchise moving to Monterey, California, where public funds may be available for a stadium. This move would coincide with a drop down to USL League One, if it occurred, per the reporting of Jeff Rueter of the Athletic.
November 2019 Update: Ray Beshoff is in negotiations with CSU Monterey Bay about relocating the Fresno FC franchise there. “I’m really excited about the potential that this area brings for professional soccer I think the community will be excited I think they’ll be very pleased,” Beshoff told KSBW8.
Renovations necessary to the stadium would take a year, so the team would not start play in Monterey until 2021 at the earliest.
Portland, Maine – (ETA: ???)
With rumors of the Timbers reserves moving down to League One, another Portland team could be on the horizon, on the other side of the country. Portland, Maine is one of the target markets for USL per the Press Herald.
Riverside – (ETA: 2020?)
Per SocTakes, AS Roma of Serie A will add a USL League One team in Riverside, California for the 2020 season. SocTakes originally reported on Roma’s effort to bring team to Riverside, CA a year ago.
Various MLS2 Teams
USL League One could see its numbers swell in the coming years via MLS reserve teams. Per SocTakes, LA Galaxy II and Portland Timbers 2 could self-relegate to Division III next year, while the New England Revolution adds reserve team. Inter Miami has also been reported to look at placing a USL League One team in Fort Lauderdale.
November 2019 Update: Inter Miami 2 and Revolution II are official for 2020.
NISA’s application deadline for Fall 2020 passed on November 1, 2019. The New York Cosmos applied to join NISA, sources confirmed to Midfield Press. In addition to the Cosmos, sources say a New Jersey group also applied to join the league. These are not expected to be the only applicants. A NISA source told Midfield Press, “Expect more derbies.” NISA’s Board of Governors will meet in Chicago from November 20-22nd, where it is expected that the applicants will present to the league and approvals will be granted to join.
Chattanooga FC – (ETA: Spring 2020)
Chattanooga finished third in the NPSL Members Cup this fall while also playing friendlies against NISA’s Stumptown Athletic. They are scheduled to start playing as a full member of NISA for the Spring. The club will continue to play out of Finley Stadium.
Detroit City FC – (ETA: Spring 2020)
Detroit City FC, champions of the NPSL Members Cup will also join NISA as a full member in the Spring 2020 season. The club will continue to play out of Keyworth Stadium.
Michigan Stars – (ETA: Spring 2020)
The Michigan Stars, who finished fifth in the NPSL Members Cup, will also transition to NISA. The club currently plays out of the Ultimate Soccer Arena in Pontiac, Michigan. It is not yet known if they will play out of the indoor facility in NISA. The club is rumored to have picked up several players who were previously with the Philadelphia Fury.
Connecticut United – (ETA: Spring 2020)
The club is expected to start play in Senator Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium in Norwich, Connecticut for the NISA Spring Showcase. Former Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson is part of the ownership group of the team, which is rumored to be looking to make its long term home at a to-be-constructed soccer-specific stadium near the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville. The casino currently houses an arena that is home to the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun.
Apparently branding details for the team were found on a vendor website, which included the nickname Wolf Clan and a crest featuring wolves (pictured above). Wolf Clan would appear to be an homage to the Mohegan tribe, as the word Mohegan translates to “people of the Wolf.” Midfield Press is told the leaked logo may not be the final version.
Providence – (ETA: Spring 2020)
The most information we have to date about the NISA Providence effort came from a Providence Journal article about six groups bidding on the site of McCoy Stadium, the minor league baseball home of the Pawtucket PawSox which will be abandoned when the baseball team moves to Worcester for the 2021 season. AJAX Advisors, the group behind the Providence NISA project, proposes to “bring professional sports to Pawtucket with independent professional soccer in a new stadium in Downtown Pawtucket and the conversion of McCoy into a light industrial use.”
Midfield Press’s Chris Kivlehan reported that former New England Revolution executive Craig Tornburg has been consulting on the project. Tornburg recently left his position with Boston City FC of NPSL.
November 2019 Update: NBC 10 News reported that during a closed-door executive session portion of a Rhode Island Commerce Corporation meeting, a committee recommended city and state officials begin negotiations with the bidders for the use of McCoy Stadium. The bidders included AJAX Advisors as well as the USL group.
Returning From Hiatus?
Philadelphia Fury (ETA: Fall 2020?)
The Philadelphia Fury’s participation in the NISA Fall 2019 Showcase was cut short due to an investor pulling out. The Fury may return for the Spring, if a replacement investor can be found, but Fall 2020 seems like a safer bet.
ASC San Diego – (ETA: ???)
ASC San Diego planned to play in the NPSL Founders Cup until that project fizzled out and was replaced by the NPSL Members Cup, which had a much lighter West Coast presence. In addition to being an arm of one of the country’s top youth soccer clubs in Albion SC, ASC San Diego added Pro League Standards qualified investors in Scot Chisholm and Joe Callahan of Classy in anticipation of the Founders Cup. The club seems prepared to join a professional soccer league if it so chooses, and with Warren Smith’s effort snapping up the USL rights, the only option for a pro league would be NISA. With the USL team launching in 2020 and 1904 FC having already kicked off in the NISA Fall Showcase, the market is more crowded than it was a few years ago but Albion would have a very large base of youth club families to draw in terms of marketing.
Jacksonville Armada – (ETA: Fall 2021?)
Unlike former NASL peers, most of whom have either moved on to USL or filed high profile lawsuits aimed at reforming US Soccer, the Jacksonville Armada has kept a relatively low profile in NPSL. The most information on the Armada’s future plans comes from an article in June from the Jacksonville Soccer Journal.
Team president Nathan Walter told the Journal that the priority right now is on building a stadium for the Armada, before they take the next step. “In regards to next year, I’ll be completely straight, we’re not sure yet,” he said. “We’re not sure what that looks like, we still have six months of this year left and as we know anything can happen and things can move. But what I can say is that until a stadium is in place, we’re not ready to take the next step, whatever that next step may be. The stadium is crucial for us to make the next step up.”
Walter also emphasized team owner Robert Palmer’s commitment to the project. “He has 40 years he wants to be a part of this, it’s not for Robert where it’s just a short-term thing and all of a sudden it’s gone,” Walter said. “He wants a legacy here, so he’s in it for the long-term. If it has to take a couple of years for us to work it all out then that’s what we’ll do, but we know we’re in the market and we’re comfortable in the market.”
November 2019 Update: A tweet from @JAXSoccerBlog states an announcement of a stadium could come very soon.
Milwaukee Torrent – (ETA: 2021?)
The Milwaukee Torrent, who finished fourth in the NPSL Members Cup, have added Pro League Standards qualified investors to their ownership group, per Wisconsin Soccer Central. The club plans to apply for either USL League One or NISA to start play in the 2021 season.
November 2019 Update: Midfield Press’ Chris Kivlehan spoke with Andi Davi, owner of the Torrent, who says they are still evaluating both NISA and USL League One. They did not apply to join a pro league for 2020, but they could potentially play in the new long season NPSL for 2020. They are targeting 2021 to join the pro ranks and did not want to rush the effort to be ready for the 2020 season.
New Jersey — (ETA: Fall 2020)
Sources told Midfield Press’s Chris Kivlehan that a New Jersey group applied to NISA prior to the November 1st deadline for Fall 2020 passing.
New Orleans Jesters – (ETA: ???)
“We’ve been exploring professional soccer for some time,” New Orleans Jesters General Manager Kenny Farrell said in a statement on the club’s website while announcing the team’s hiatus from NPSL for the 2019 season. The Jesters were one of the teams with a Letter of Intent to join the North American Soccer League prior to the cancellation of the league’s 2018 season. The club is understood to be looking at both the USL and NISA.
New York Cosmos – (ETA: Fall 2020)
As the main drivers of the NASL antitrust lawsuit against US Soccer, the New York Cosmos may find themselves persona non-grata among professional leagues that depend on US Soccer’s blessing to run their leagues. Michael Lewis of Front Row Soccer reported comments from Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso that even NISA has been wary of taking the club in.
“It’s a tough decision,” Commisso said. “I have not made up my mind yet. Clearly, if nobody lets us play, how can we play? NISA doesn’t want us, the NPSL doesn’t want us and I’m just not going to field a team of amateurs. That’s not the Cosmos.”
Commisso added on NISA in particular: “From what I heard — I didn’t speak to them personally — is that they might have a lot of problems with them getting Division Three if they let the Cosmos in,” Commisso said. “I heard it from some of our people that are in touch with the situation. U.S. Soccer is just putting stumbling blocks in front of us.”
November 2019 Update: Midfield Press’ Chris Kivlehan reported that the Cosmos submitted their NISA application prior to the November 1st deadline. The application will most likely be voted on in the November Board of Governors Meeting before needing the final approval from the USSF.