United Soccer League confirms new branding, league structure
The United Soccer League has unveiled a new structure as well as a revamped branding of its three leagues, the organization announced on Tuesday.
In a naming scheme similar to that used by the English Football League, the second tier USL will now be called the USL Championship, its third tier offering -- set to begin play in 2019 -- will be named USL League One, while the amateur Premier Development League will be renamed USL League Two. All three leagues will be contained under the USL organization.
"The USL has spent the past eight years transforming our league to meet the evolving needs of our team owners, players, coaches, fans and partners," said USL CEO Alec Papadakis via a prepared statement.
"We have established our place in the U.S. soccer landscape while blazing the trail for professional soccer's future by introducing a new third division, completing the nation's professional soccer structure.
"We are bringing three leagues under one central brand that will uniquely represent the USL's vision for the future and give rise to local passion in new cities currently without professional soccer."
USL President Jake Edwards, an in exclusive interview with ESPN FC, said that part of the impetus at rebranding the USL's league was to counter confusion in the marketplace as to what each league represented. It was decided that mirroring the way the English Football League is structured is the best way to do that.
"I think the football fans in North America are very savvy, very switched-on, they understand that structure, and they're very familiar with what they've seen overseas [with the English Football League]," said Edwards via telephone.
"So I think it will resonate and help to articulate the difference in the divisions as you move up or down."
The USL Championship currently has 33 teams in operation, while USL League One will start with 11 teams in 2019. Edwards added that he expects USL League One to grow to between 20-25 teams "within three years." USL League Two currently has over 80 teams.
The naming scheme hints at a strong level of connectivity among the three leagues, though the reality is that the USL doesn't utilize a system of promotion/relegation. Edwards said his main goal is to get stability in USL League One first.
"What I'm focused on over the next few years is turning USL League One into a strong, competitive, professional league that is going to have infrastructure, stadiums, ownership and quality of players that lends itself to looking at [pro/rel] down the road," he said.
"I don't think that's something you can launch right away. I think we need to work on those clubs and get to a point -- like we did in the USL over the last few years -- whereby you could consider that."
Edwards added that there would be a cup competition among teams from the USL Championship and USL League One comprised of group stages and knockout rounds, and that the intent is to launch that competition in 2020.
"That will give us a barometer of how these teams [progress] and what the level looks like," said Edwards. "We can then determine if the better teams in League One will survive in the Championship."