TAMPA, Fla. – Clubs in the USL Championship and USL League One continue to wait for word on when the leagues will return to action for the 2020 season.
For the organizations aiming to join both leagues on the field in future years as expansion franchises, however, discussions with the United Soccer League’s leadership remain active as ever.
“The good news is our expansion has never been stronger,” said USL President Jake Edwards in conversation with The Athletic’s Jeff Rueter on Instagram Live on Wednesday evening. “Going into this season we had probably a good 8-to-10 serious discussions with Championship expansion markets looking to join. A number of those you know with Providence, Des Moines and Baltimore and a couple of others, all with very ambitious stadium plans, and those haven’t gone away, we’re still actively pursuing that and doing the work in those communities. Those conversations haven’t stopped.”
An even larger number continue to seek membership in League One, with the potential that some announcements for clubs joining in the 2021 season may arrive later this summer. As with the current Chattanooga Red Wolves SC stadium project – which recently installed its main turf field and began erecting stands – work continues other potential league venues in communities looking to join professional soccer’s growth.
“League One is where the majority of expansion needs to occur over the next couple of years, and we are in active dialogue with over 30 communities,” said Edwards. “Some of those have slowed down, obviously, as cities focus on what’s more important here, but a lot of those communities are coming in and building stadiums and that work carries on in the background.
“You’ll see some really exciting expansion announcements once we get out of this – it’s not really appropriate to be talking about that right now – but as we come toward the end of the next few months we’ll start seeing some of those announcements.”
The ownership groups those new clubs will be joining are currently navigating uncharted waters. Daily calls continue to be held between USL leadership and ownership, club Presidents and staff as both the Championship and League One chart a path back to live action this year. But while the season remains on hold, Edwards believes the bonds that have been forged will allow the USL and all of its clubs to emerge strongly on the other side.
“There is concern, but there are steady people at the controls behind the clubs and they’re thinking long-term and how to navigate through this,” said Edwards. “We’ve never spent more time on the phone with our team owners, with our presidents, our executives, our coaches, and so one thing it’s done, this virus, is its brought us a lot closer together.
“I think we’re sharing a lot of stories, we’re understanding a bit more, we’re being more empathetic with each other, we’re getting to know each other a lot more, so I think we’re going to come out of this a much stronger league with a much tighter bond. All the things we were planning on doing as a league before to be a top-class professional league, they carry on, so it’s not changed our identity at all.”