A sign that the dust is beginning to settle after USSF elected to provisionally sanction the USL as a D2 professional league in 2017 is the official announcement of the USL conference alignment for the upcoming season. The league will comprise 30 teams, split equally between Eastern and Western Conferences. The Mississippi River will essentially serve as the boundary between the two conferences.
The loss of a couple of teams and the addition of a few will introduce some changes to conference composition in 2017, most of which will be incurred by the Eastern Conference.
- Wilmington Hammerheads FC self-relegated to the USL PDL at the conclusion of the 2016 season.
- FC Montreal recently ceased operations.
- Two NASL clubs, Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury, defected to the USL in late October.
One significant change will impact the competition solely in the Western Conference. Others will simply impact the names of the teams in the left of the league.
- Reno 1868 FC was added an an expansion team.
- Arizona United SC rebranded as Phoenix Rising FC ahead of moving into a new soccer specific stadium.
- Orange County Blues FC have been hinting at a rebrand of their own.
The additions and deletions enumerated above required an additional alteration to alignment to balance the number of teams in each conference. Saint Louis FC will make the move from the Western to the Eastern Conference, marking the third time in three seasons that club will play in a new conference.
The USL announcement also reiterated some points about the structure of the schedule and the playoffs.
- Each team will play a total of 32 regular season matches, 28 of which will be comprised of home-and-away series against each conference foe.
- The remaining 4 games will be competed against regional rivals.
- The regular season will last 30 weeks. Opening weekend will be March 24-26. The final weekend will be October 13-15.
- The top 8 teams from each conference will qualify for the playoffs.