The 2016 USL season kicked off two weeks ago with 29 teams dotting the Continental United States and Canada. The planned return of the Austin Aztex and the commencement of Reno 1868 FC would raise the number of teams to 31 in 2017. The USL, though, will not settle for the same number of teams as Baskin-Robbins has flavors. According to multiple sources in and around the league, Nashville will be making its entry into USL next season.
Sources were unclear about which ownership group has stepped forward to secure the rights to a USL franchise in Nashville, but Nashville FC is an obvious candidate for “promotion”. Although Nashville FC currently competes in the NPSL, its aspirations to join a professional league have been publicized.
Chris Jones, Nashville FC Board Member and President of Business Development, is unaware of plans to move the club to the USL in 2017.
“If we are, that’s news to us,” Jones quipped when asked if Nashville FC was making the move to USL next season.
If Nashville FC is not involved in the ownership group that will field a USL team in Music City, who is? Harrisburg City Islanders owner, Eric Pettis, once flirted with the idea of transplanting his club to Nashville, but now seems committed to making it work in Pennsylvania.
USL Senior Director of Communications and PR John Griffin is relatively new in his position, but is familiar with the league’s customary response to queries regarding expansion.
“We don’t comment on specific cities or potential ownership groups, but I can tell you that there continues to be significant interest in the league from around the country,” Griffin said.
Indeed, there does seem to be significant interest from around the country. When a different source inside USL was contacted with respect to the developments in Nashville, a laundry list of potential expansion cities was uncovered.
San Diego is among the contenders to join the league in 2017 or 2018. A strong ownership group, one that does not include Landon Donovan, has emerged in the Southern California locale.
Speaking of strong ownership groups and Southern California, LAFC is expected to start its USL affiliate in the near future. Efforts are being made to merge that yet-to-be-realized club with the existing Orange County Blues FC. OCB holds the USL rights in Orange County, but LAFC possesses more than a modicum of clout. With big egos involved on both sides, successfully merging the clubs could tricky. StP spoke briefly with OC Blues FC Operations Manager Marcia Bonillia, who professed to have no knowledge of a potential merger with LAFC.
Birmingham, home of the NPSL’s Birmingham Hammers, is on tap to join the USL in 2017, 2018, or 2019. A link between the Hammers and the USL has not been made evident.
It is uncertain whether the provided list of teams is exhaustive. Regardless, it is clear that USL is set to retain its reputation as one of the fastest growing professional soccer leagues in the world.