When the 2017 USL Competition Proposal became public, Scratching the Pitch extrapolated what that might look like in terms of team composition and conference alignment. Some reports that have emerged since the USL midseason meetings have validated some hypotheses, while other news raises new questions.
Wilmington Hammerheads FC Planning to Go on Hiatus
As if losing 4-1 to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds was not enough bad news for Hammerheads fans, a somewhat unexpected bit of news to come out of the USL midseason meetings is that Wilmington does not plan to compete in 2017. This report comes from independent sources within the league.
Jason Arnold, Wilmington Hammerheads FC General Manager, was contacted but could not comment on the 2017 season.
This will not be the first time that the Hammerheads have sat out a year. After winning the USL D2 regular season championship in 2009, Wilmington skipped the 2010 season that saw the USSF take control of operating a second division professional league in the U.S. When USL PRO began competing in 2011, the Hammerheads were back on the pitch with a new ownership group led by Bill Rudisill.
Perhaps the Hammerheads, located in one of the league’s smallest markets, feel that restructuring is needed in order to keep pace with the growth in stature of the USL. George Altirs, who purchased ownership from Bill Rudisill after the 2013 season, may need time to find another new owner or additional investment partners.
Wilmington has shown the ability to bounce back after a season-long hiatus in the past. Hopefully it can happen again for soccer fans in the Port City.
Austin Aztex Planning to Extend Hiatus
Following the 2015 USL season, the first as a professional team for the Aztex, the club announced plans to suspend operations. When the USL 2017 Competition Proposal was leaked, Scratching the Pitch reasoned that Austin would not be returning to play next season. Plans for extending the hiatus were reiterated during the league’s midseason meetings.
The difficulty in Austin is the inability to secure an acceptable stadium for the Aztex to call home.
Bobby Epstein, majority owner of the Aztex, told the Austin American-Statesman, “There is no suitable stadium. Until there is, the Aztex won’t field a team.”
Orange County Blues FC May Have Found New Investors
There is some potential good news for one independent USL franchise that may have been approaching perilous times as the USL continues to expand its footprint and its standards.
Source: OC Blues to get new ownership and investment this coming week #USL
— Bob Williams (@WilliamsBob75) July 31, 2016
Scratching the Pitch previously reported that LAFC looked to form a partnership with the Blues in order to establish itself in the USL, but Williams has not linked the nascent MLS franchise with Orange County Blues FC.
Other News, Notes, Observations, and Speculations
- Arithmetic dictates another 2017 expansion team has yet to be announced if the league is sticking to the plan of having 30 teams compete. Twenty-nine teams are taking part in the current season. The addition of Reno brings the total up to 30, but the loss of Wilmington returns the tally to 29.
- The USL will stick to a two-conference format for the 2017 season. The league plans to finalize conference alignment in the third or fourth quarter of this 2016.
- A press release from USL confirmed that the 2017 regular season schedule will contain 32 matches for each team.
- A Central Conference will be added to the Eastern and Western Conferences in 2018, if all goes according to the plan that was conveyed by a source within the league. Nashville has already been announced as an expansion side for 2018, and expectations are the Music City will be joined by five additional markets.
- It is anticipated that teams owned and operated by MLS will be included in the 2018 wave of expansion. Whispers about Dallas and Colorado have been heard in the back rooms, where rumors of various degrees of truthfulness have been known to originate.