UPDATE: The Reno Gazette-Journal interviewed Reno Aces President Eric Edelstein, who told the reporter that the Aces ownership group is still in negotiations with USL for a team in 2017. The team will not begin play in 2016, as originally reported by StP. Additionally, the potential Reno USL franchise would share a stadium with the AAA baseball team.
Speculation has abounded with regard to which markets might be included in the USL expansion class of 2016. If one were to believe the most frequently circulated rumors, then Las Vegas would have appeared to be a stone cold lock of the century join the league next season. It turns out the state of Nevada will have a team next year, but it will be in Reno.
USL has communicated an official policy not to comment on potential teams. A source inside the league, however, has confirmed that Reno will be joining Rio Grande Valley and Cincinnati as independent (non-MLS) franchises joining USL for the 2016 season.
These teams are reportedly paying a substantial $2,000,000 fee to gain entry into the league that continues to raise its profile in the American sports scene. Consider that teams established in 2013 and 2014 doled out a comparatively meager $500,000 to join USL PRO (as the league was known then).
With USL stepping up its game and its price tag, the league is attracting a crop of affluent investors. Herb Simon, real estate developer and owner of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, is reportedly heading up the ownership of the new team in Reno. Simon, who is estimated by Forbes to have $2,800,000,000 in net worth, can certainly afford to roll the dice on a new USL soccer club in Reno. Simon is already part of the ownership group for the Reno Aces, a AAA baseball club.
Scratching the Pitch has been told that the deadline to form a new USL team for 2016 is sometime next week, so other markets are not officially out of the running just yet. In a recent episode of Beeman’s Republic, however, USL president Jake Edwards stated that all the teams for next season had been finalized.
Where does this leave cities like Las Vegas and Detroit? Our source indicates that Las Vegas will most likely enter USL in 2017. Detroit, it turns out, is another story. The ownership group in the Motor City may not meet USSF D2 standards, and it is no secret that USL has its eyes set on America’s second division.
The leagues’s initiative to have all of its franchises be the primary tenant or owner of a soccer specific stadium by 2020 has been a big indicator that the implementation of D2 standards would begin sooner rather than later. So,it is not shocking that USL would prefer to limit new ownership groups to those that would enhance the league’s chances at D2 sanctioning. In fact, Scratching the Pitch has learned that the league may be looking to find new majority ownership for the one or two teams that do not currently have ownership groups that qualify for D2.
Of course independent clubs are not the only teams seeking admission into the league. MLS continues to place reserved sides with its lower division partner. Orlando is a certainty for 2016. Philadelphia Union has begun to make overtures. Sporting Kansas City is apparently in the mix, and FC Dallas has been flirting with the idea since 2013.
The best count of teams currently slated to compete in USL in 2016 stands at 30, but there may still be one or two clubs to emerge. A league of 40+ teams may ready for competition sooner than was originally thought.