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USL Merges D-2 and D-3 Leagues to Create ‘USL Pro’ for 2011

2010 September 8
by Brian Quarstad

As teams from the United Soccer Leagues D-3 league met this morning in Tampa, Florida to talk about their future, the league itself issued a press release.

USL released a press statement this morning saying it’s merging its second and third divisions “into a single league property for 2011” which will be called  USL PRO. The announcement is exactly what many have been anticipating with the lack of D2 teams still involved with the USL. Also, the organization was wanting to move to a more regional model which many in the US feel is better suited for soccer below the D1 (MLS) level. The statement claims the league’s regionalization will feature a ” model to build natural rivalries and reduce travel-related costs.” (See IMS’s four part series on the regionalization of D2 soccer in North America)

USL claims their league will consist of four geographic regions in 2011 but does not expound on that statement saying information will be coming on the teams involved in the coming weeks.

The press release also claims the league will “present the highest level of competition in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean outside of Major League Soccer (MLS). ” Yet the statement does not clarify if the league is D2 or D3. IMS believes the league will be a continuation of the USL’s D3 league, currently named USL-2. The league has been run by USL since 1990 and was originally named “USISL Pro League”.

The North American Soccer League (NASL) has been trying to sanction a 2nd division league with the USSF for over a year with disgruntled owners who used to be involved with the USL in Division 2. Both the NASL and the USL have had difficulty finding enough teams to create an 8-team D2 league for the 2011 season.

Recently the Puerto Rico Islanders, who have been a USL team since 2004, have started negotiations with the NASL to jump ship so they can remain a D2 team. However, Puerto Rico do not qualify for the new higher standards that the USSF have just set of D2 soccer. A waiver would be needed from the governing body of soccer in the US for the team to play in the 2011 season.

Rob Clark, owner of the long standing D-2 team Rochester Rhinos, recently told IMS that he would be attending the meetings in Orlando as a fact finding mission. Clark said: “I’m going to absorb all of the alternatives for the Rhinos should we choose not to participate in D2 next year. If the USL D3 league and its owners have their house in order and more importantly make decisions that “make sense” consistently, then I will have a very hard decision to make this off season.”

Phil Rawlins, owner of the 2nd year Austin Aztex also a D-2 team, was planning on attending the meetings in Orlando today as well. He recently said he would not affiliate himself with the NASL and didn’t believe the organization had enough teams that would make the new tougher D2 standards.

Another grievance of the NASL was that team owners did not have enough control of the league itself when under the umbrella of USL. Today’s press statement claims the new USL league will feature a “board of governors responsible for making all major decisions for the league including expansion, competition format and commercial strategy.”

A source for IMS who said they did not want to go on record recently reported that USL’s strategy is: If there is no D2 approved this year by USSF, then D3 will be the new D2.

To see the press release in its entirety, please click “read more.”


USSF-Affiliated League Featuring Top Quality Competition to Debut in 2011

TAMPA, Fla. – Designed to help ensure the long-term stability of professional soccer in North America, United Soccer Leagues announced the merger of its First and Second Divisions into a single league property for 2011 – USL PRO.

Team owners and league officials are meeting in Tampa, Florida today to lay the groundwork for the 2011 debut of USL PRO, which will be governed by team owners and present the highest level of competition in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean outside of Major League Soccer (MLS).

USL PRO is a national league featuring a regional competition model to build natural rivalries and reduce travel-related costs.  The U.S. Soccer Federation-affiliated league benefits from the leadership of the dedicated and experienced professional staff at USL’s Tampa headquarters as well as the developmental support of USL’s proven and integrated system of leagues.

USL PRO will consist of as many as four geographic regions in 2011.  Teams scheduled to compete in USL PRO in 2011 will be announced in the coming weeks.

“After much analysis of the current landscape we’ve chosen to combine our synergies into a single professional league that will operate within financial and competitive models that make sense,” USL CEO Alec Papadakis said.  “The USL PRO business plan is the first below the MLS level to give team owners a realistic roadmap to profitability.  We need to focus on the future health of soccer in North America, and the USL PRO model addresses many of the issues that have led to the instability of men’s professional soccer below the MLS level.”

USL PRO will feature a Board of Governors responsible for making all major decisions for the league including expansion, competition format and commercial strategy.   The league will focus on aggressive but deliberate growth by adding teams fully capable of meeting USL and USSF standards which are located in markets that further promote regional league play.

In its 25th consecutive year of operating professional soccer leagues in the Unites States, Canada and the Caribbean, USL has adjusted to the changing soccer landscape in North America on several previous occasions.  In 2001 USL restructured its previously non age-restricted Premier Development League as a U23 league when men’s college players were in need of highly competitive training and playing options during the summer months.  It was also the first entity to launch a national youth league for elite clubs, the Super Y-League.

USL’s professional staff includes not only experienced league administrators, but a large staff of sports professionals to assist teams in the areas of franchise development, international partnerships, marketing, ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, communications, new media, broadcast production, web services and player registration.  USL also features a full-time National Technical Director to assist teams with player identification and to help create opportunities for player advancement both domestically and internationally.

53 Responses
  1. September 8, 2010

    It all depends on the NASL bid for D2 this fall. If the NASL has enough viable teams that fit the new standards, there’s no doubt that they’ll get sanctioned by USSF for D2. One thing is for sure though, it’ll be an interesting off season for US soccer.

  2. smatthew permalink
    September 8, 2010

    “USL claims their league will consist of four geographic regions in 2011 but does not expound on that statement saying information will be coming on the teams involved in the coming weeks.”

    Almost a must have for some of the teams in D3 right now. Will be interesting to see a list of the future teams that are to be added and make up the regions.

    “If there is no D2 approved this year by USSF, then D3 will be the new D2.”


  3. September 8, 2010

    This is what a lot of people expected, but how many teams will be involved and how will it be “regional”? The six current USL-2 teams are regional, along with the Dayton Dutch Lions — who are expected to move up. There are a few other teams that could move up, but how would Austin’s region work? Also, Charleston, Richmond and Harrisburg averaged decent crowds, but the other three D-3 teams all averaged below 1K. I think it is a smart move to go with USL PRO, but at this point I highly doubt either Austin or Puerto Rico will be in the league. Hardcore soccer fans will know the difference between a D-2 and D-3 league. That doesn’t mean casual fans won’t though.

  4. ERic permalink
    September 8, 2010

    If you merge something and nothing, is it really a merger?

  5. Mikey permalink
    September 8, 2010

    I think USL term was “restructure” confirms that will not be applying for Division 2 status and but are looking for sanctioning by USSF. basically it looks like USL2 but renamed. There were several unnamed PDL clubs involved in the presentation and I assume they will take the info back to their clubs and make a decision if they want to change or not.

  6. Wayne permalink
    September 8, 2010

    As the Stomach Turns….Where is the Carol Burnett Show when you need it?!

    USL is in the driver seat right now and will drive most teams to D3. I still think Rochester, Carolina and PR are strong D3 candidates. That’s a great regional league and will produce some good rivalries. D3 could have 10+ teams and fans could travel to many away games. FCNY, Atlanta and Crystal Palace could function as well in D3.

    NASL owners have to think long and hard on this one. It will be an interesting Fall/Winter, no doubt.

  7. September 8, 2010

    Interesting because I was in touch with Jay Preble director of communications for USL after the press release. I asked him that specific question via email and he did not respond. Perhaps he’s tied up in meetings but as I stated, I presume it’s D3. BTW, while the press release uses the word “restructure” it also says “merger of its First and Second Division”. Semantics.

  8. jmb321 permalink
    September 8, 2010

    Sanctioning will probably be for no class, neither D2 or D3 but rather an USSF associative relationship.

  9. Mikey permalink
    September 8, 2010

    BQ I sent you an email with an additional contact that I have had nearly immediate response from today

  10. September 8, 2010

    jmb321, WHAT? What is an “associative relationship”?

  11. Oolong4Go permalink
    September 8, 2010

    do you know if NSC Stars sent anyone to check into the options for going D3 next year, or are they committed to just folding the team if a 20M investor can not be found?

  12. jmb321 permalink
    September 8, 2010

    “USSF-Affiliated League… ” as indicated in USL’s PR release means exactly what it says and does not designate a particular “class” or “level”.

  13. September 8, 2010

    I don’t see many of the D-2 teams making the switch. Especially Puerto Rico. Try telling a team like Charleston or Harrisburg they have to travel there. I guess you could include Antigua and Orlando in the “region” but who else would they play during the season? This would basically be what it is now: a northeast-based lower tier league. I really hope Rochester stays in D-2. I’m not sure how that level of soccer would draw and chances are the players would get paid a lot less.

  14. September 8, 2010

    Talking to the NSC, the later seems to be true.

    Remember please, this new league may be fantastic. But then again there were only 6 member teams this past year. The Kitsap Pumas who wanted to be part of the Western conference have recently said they cannot move up to D3 yet because their growth has been to slow because of the economy. We really have no idea yet how many teams will be involved with this league. It all sounds great and may be, but lets not get too excited until we left the press release and see what’s really under there.

  15. Oolong4Go permalink
    September 8, 2010

    I’m sure they are making it sound much better than it will be. Was just wondering if NSC was looking at options. Even having a PDL team play there would be better than having it sit empty.

  16. Thor permalink
    September 8, 2010

    Whether or not this League is Div 2 or Div 3, you have to admire the geographical region idea. As long as it truly is regional. If it works, and it should, I think that MLS and/or NASL could learn a lot from this and it would be the perfect way for MLS to expand beyond 20 teams and for NASL to survive.

  17. jmb321 permalink
    September 8, 2010

    Interesting to note that the original posting of the USLPRO logo had images of players in uniform from various clubs above it. Now the posting on the USL website does not have any images. Think there was some negative feedback from the meeting…?

  18. ERic permalink
    September 8, 2010

    LOL. Well, that’s mildly embarrassing.

  19. Chrös permalink
    September 8, 2010


    Why is there such an emphasis on Div. 2 versus Div. 3? Shouldn’t the second best league be the de facto second division, or is there some sort of FIFA bureaucratic work at play to ensure that there is no competition between domestic leagues?

    Personally I think it would be better for the game to have multiple second division leagues catered to the geographic needs of their given area rather than arbitrarily call the NASL second division and the USL Pro league third division.

    The competition between leagues has proven to be a success in other aspects of American professional sports. The American League and National League only recently began playing each other during the regular season. The NFL only really took off after it merged with the upstart American Football League. To go out there a little bit, even professional wrestling thrived when WWF and WCW were competing to put out the best product.

    So wouldn’t it make sense to sanction both leagues as independent second divisions, have their champions play at the end of the season, and hope that in 10 years they will either both be strong enough to merge or one will be strong enough to take charge?

  20. September 8, 2010

    The teams in the photo can be seen here:

    I’m sure the logic was they are USL teams, therefore…

    I would expect Austin was not thrilled with it.

  21. [WeatherManNX01 permalink
    September 8, 2010

    Well, this clears up the whole D2/D3 mess. Clear as mud.

    I was hoping things would be sorted soon. Now it looks like it’s going to take a bit longer for the music to stop, and then we’ll see what happens.

    Also, I expect this to be a D3 league. U.S. Soccer’s D2 guidelines are just that: for whoever applies for sanctioning for division 2. There is absolutely no way teams like the City Islanders and Riverhounds could meet the requirements for D2. However, there’s nothing stopping a team that meets D2 standards from playing in D3 (such as Rochester).

    It’ll be interesting to see how all this plays out over the next few months.

  22. WSW permalink
    September 8, 2010

    Basically it’s a statement that USL is D3, we all know how they run their league and how many teams self-relegated or folded. NASL will be the the true king and will have D2 status.

  23. LegendMN007 permalink
    September 8, 2010

    As someone else mentioned earlier if NSC deceided to fold the Stars because they can’t meet the USSF requirements. PDL would be an option but what do you think the chance of them trying to add a WPS team?

  24. UNCfan permalink
    September 8, 2010

    Nothing new to see here. D3 is renaming and merging its non existent USL D1, but this will be the fall back league if NASL fails(which even being in Raleigh with Wellman trying to reassure everyone, I have major doubts about) but that would have happened anyway.

  25. WeatherManNX01 permalink
    September 8, 2010


    No way could the NSC afford the long-term losses of a WPS team. WPS isn’t losing money like WUSA was, but it’s still a long-term money-loser, just as MLS was (and still is). The Stars at least have a chance at profitability. A WPS team has none in the near future.

  26. September 8, 2010

    I have addressed the PDL/NPSL issue here in the Twin Cities more times than I can count… well not really. But seriously, I don’t know if I have the energy to approach it once again. I will just say, 16h major metro area, major league town with every major sport and many minor league sports as well and D1 college (U of M). PDL, and NPSL will never draw well in this market.

    WPS as I have also said here a number of times, will be lucky to be around next year and my prediction is the league will announce it will fold after the WC bid is announced in December. All teams are losing money badly and and attendance is down dramatically in the second year.

    A USL W-League team like the Lightning would be more realistic but that too cost the Thunder a lot of money per year with no return whatsoever.

  27. September 8, 2010


    “One thing is for sure though, it’ll be an interesting off season for US soccer.”

    Another “interesting off season,” oh instability…

  28. Joe permalink
    September 8, 2010

    pro -USL IMS is having a field day with

  29. September 8, 2010

    I don’t care how “great” this all sounds (regionalization, D-3, etc. etc.), I simply can’t stand USL and the way they’ve run things in the past. They’ve had their chance. It’s time for them to ride off into the sunset and get the hell out of the way. It’s like the GOP trying to reinvent itself via the Tea Party. It’s lipstick on a pig.

  30. September 8, 2010

    regarding the pdl thing – is high attendance really necessary for the Stars? I thought I read somewhere that the approximate break even point for pdl is around 500 attendance – that for a team that has to rent their stadium. It would seem to me that they could potentially break even, develop some players and slowly build up brand recognition. The potential is that if a pro league actually expands into this area and there are nearby teams, the pdl team could ‘move up.’

  31. Leroy permalink
    September 8, 2010


    Understand that USL cannot stand you either. They don’t want you as a fan and they want you to understand that they think you are a complete and absolute idiot

    The fact that you work at Burger King as a line cook and are on minimum wage does not help either.

  32. September 8, 2010

    I don’t think putting 500 fans in a stadium that holds 12,000 for only 8 home games a season is really going to help the NSC very much. The idea was supposed to be that the team would help pay for the cost of upkeep to the stadium and build brand recognition for their tournaments. None of that has really happened this year. That is if you could draw 500 fans to a PDL team. It seems like you should be able to but again, (I’m starting to sound like a canyon with a great echo) This is a major league town. Not sure if there would be a big draw for PDL.

  33. LegendMN007 permalink
    September 8, 2010

    Brian I agree that this is a major league town. The only reason I mentioned the WPS is because I was watching one of their games at the time and was on your site. But I have felt that with this being a major league town that a minor league soccer team would struggle and that is exactly what the Stars are and what the Thunder were. No matter how they brand the lower divisions in this country they will always be seen as the minors.

  34. pony permalink
    September 8, 2010

    That is exactly why D2 (NASL, hopefully) needs to link-up with SUM to drive the marketing of their league. SUM would gain from more large markets not in MLS (Minniapolis, Miami, Tampa, St Louis), while the D2 cities would by getting more friendlies and market exposure.

  35. smatthew permalink
    September 9, 2010

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the very fact that this is a saturated major league town is why Minnesota/NSC/whoeves shouldn’t try to become a part of a national lower division league. Even if they break even, a lower division team will never penetrate this market to get enough recognition to be safely considered stable and I have my doubts a second division team would help build brand recognition for the tourneys outside of those who already know about it.

    But hey if the NSC can get their millionaire and prove me wrong I’ll gladly admit it and eat crow. I love eating crow on my negative predictions.

  36. Chrös permalink
    September 9, 2010

    Let’s not kid ourselves, the Stars might be playing in the second division, but they aren’t close to being “second tier” in the Twin Cities. Second tier are the Saints and the Swarm; the Stars are a distant third tier in terms of name recognition and visibility throughout the Twin Cities.

    I’m beginning to feel like this whole second division ordeal is completely off-base. Are people clamoring to get to the stadium when Martin Nash and the first-place Vancouver White Caps come to town? Does Johnny Menyonger draw fans from around the Twin Cities?

    The demand simply is not very high for a soccer team filled with unknown players playing unknown teams in an outer-ring suburb here. Despite the large number of soccer fans in general in the Twin Cities, there just isn’t a huge market for what I just described. There are ways that could be improved, but realistically they aren’t likely.

    Personally, I can’t imagine attendance would significantly change whether the Stars were in Div. 2 (NASL) or Div. 3 (USL Pro). In fact, from what I read here, it appears as if several USL-2 teams outdraw USL-1/NASL teams. The Stars—and teams everywhere—need to start thinking about what the reality is instead of thinking about national footprints and other “potential” that has yet to be realized in all but maybe three minor league soccer cities (all of which are heading to MLS). The Stars have a niche to fill, and they should focus on filling that now and expanding more later.

  37. Trevor permalink
    September 9, 2010

    What I’m really interested to see much Marcos decides to charge for the franchising fees in this “new” (read: other) league. Will he charge D2 sized fees or D3? Somewhere in between? And what will be the standards for the league? Is every D3 and PDL team going to be another Cleveland City Stars?

    Either way, I’m not surprised by this announcement. The fact is, by merging USL2 and USL3, Marcos is going to draw more fledgling PDL teams up (see: Dutch Lions) and more prospective D3 owners in–that means more franchise fees. And as we saw with the announcement of the I-League (to say little of the league’s fleecing of team owners for their franchising fees over the last 20 years), the name of the game in the USL is “Marcos Gets Paid.”

  38. September 9, 2010

    Marco’s is no longer in control, rest assured of that. It’s Papadaks and Hoskins in control and from what I’m hearing, they are making sure everyone knows that at USL, from the ground all the way to Holt and Marcos.

  39. SaltyPirate permalink
    September 9, 2010

    Any inkling as to whether the new incarnation of the MLS reserve league will be involved in this? It seems to me that a great way to minimize travel costs would be to have the MLS reserve squads participate in regional leagues. (Just like they do in Germany)

  40. September 9, 2010

    You are prob. new to IMS but we have covered this extensively in the comments. Long story short, no.

  41. jmb321 permalink
    September 9, 2010

    he is not as “uninvolved” as you may have been led to believe.

  42. September 9, 2010

    Sorry, was being a bit sarcastic before. Of course he’s involved and Papadakas is his old buddy. I have been fed that line and I am not buying it 100%. Nothing is ever black and white. I think your assertion is a bit heavy as well. There are certainly changes going on at USL but there are still a lot of things that remain the same. How’s that for being non-committal.

  43. jmb321 permalink
    September 9, 2010

    You can wallpaper over an outhouse and it may seem better but it is still an outhouse. The functionality only changes when you install central plumbing which is normally hidden from view.

  44. leper permalink
    September 9, 2010

    So hypothetically if:

    1) this USL Pro league plays in 2011 as a USSF sanctioned D3 league
    2) the NASL is unable to get 8 qualified teams under the new D2 rules and ends up not playing next year at all

    Let’s say that happened, which is by no means assured but doesn’t seem too big a stretch. So you would have MLS, and then USL Pro would be the second level of soccer in the US. At that point, what is the difference if it’s defined as a D2 or D3 league under the USSF’s regulations? Who (outside of people on the internet discussing the minute details of soccer leagues that hardly anyone else follows in any way, of course) would know or care the difference? How would that USL Pro league then be functinally any different then the USL 1st division prior to this year?

    I mean, if you’re the 2nd highest level of soccer in the US, does it matter if you’re sanctioned as D2 or D3?

  45. Trevor permalink
    September 9, 2010

    Here’s another question–if would the USSF stand thfor a de facto D3 functioning as D2? Doesn’t that just simply put mud on their face for putting such stringent standards on D2 (and essentially killing it)?

    I doubt USSF will let USL Pro stand as the division directly below MLS. It would be too embarrassing for Gilati and co.

  46. John Schulz permalink
    September 9, 2010

    What this amounts to is the USL going back to the way they were is 1994 and 1995. I do understand why leagues have to be classified as Division 1 or 2 or 3 in the US and Canada without pro/rel. Is this something FIFA wants all countries to do. Why not just classify leagues as national leagues and regional leagues and leave it at that.

  47. September 9, 2010

    OK “Leroy,”

    You busted me. I am, in fact, typing this during my break from flipping burgers for you and your bloated ilk. If you love USL so much, good for you. More power to ya.

    This “absolute idiot” knows USL deals in smoke and mirrors to obfuscate what they’re really up to. If you want to jump on their bandwagon, you go girl. I will laugh heartily and choke on my Whopper Jr. while you drive over the cliff.

    But hey, regionalization sounds like a worthy goal.

  48. Chrös permalink
    September 10, 2010

    Can somebody explain why there is such an emphasis on differentiating between a D-1 and D-2 league?

  49. September 10, 2010

    Well, I think that’s what the USL is trying to say as well.

    I think the big deal is that FIFA requires it for different levels throughout the world for organizations sake. I think it helps with standards and levels of play and performance by each team. For instance, the size and quality of a stadium for an MLS team compared to and D2 team compared to a D3 team. You shouldn’t require an 18,000 seat stadium for D2 and you probabaly shouldn’t require a 5,000 seat stadium for D3.

    Another D2 standard are minimum population standards for the cities they play in. They want to make sure that a team has the correct population to actually support a team at that level. There are usually differences also in the amount of foreign players, subs etc….

  50. Leroy permalink
    September 10, 2010

    TH –

    Glad to see you are at work, instead of begging on the street corner. I look forward to picking up a burger so you can continue to be paid.

    You wrote:

    “This “absolute idiot” knows USL deals in smoke and mirrors to obfuscate what they’re really up to.”

    Yeah, USL has many agendas in mind, mostly about taking over the world……. Folks, this is a minor league soccer organization, nothing more. I don’t see how they need “smoke and mirrors” and they certainly have not “obfuscated” (big word TH) from what I have seen and read.

    On the other hand, you must be self-reassured to understand how to properly classify your state of life……

  51. yankiboy permalink
    September 10, 2010

    Leroy-I used to work at Wendy’s. What’s wrong with working an honest job where you help feed people and provide a service? I helps keep the economy moving.

    While I get your point about not making it out to be a “comspiracy”, I disagree with part of your take about the “smoke and mirrors”. Both the USL and the NASL have been doing just that. They have both been involved in manipulation of facts with both direct investors (team owners) and indirect investors (sponsors and fans).

    The only difference is that the USL has been doing it a lot longer.

    They both are selling the future of minor league soccer. Both have been less than forthcoming. OK. I will say borderline “shady”.

    It is a turf battle, sure. But it’s not like TH was going too far out on a limb with that particular comment.

  52. yankiboy permalink
    September 10, 2010

    WHich leads me to MH:

    Bro, can we not corrupt the blog comment section with your incorrect and useless politcal musings???

    (I meant to hit on that before).


    Isn’t there a political blog for you to post that kind of stuff?

    Or do you go to the NPR blog and post stuff about the NASL and how it is the new vanguard of the new America and how it will transform things with it’s cultural revolution?

    Time and a place Bro. Time and a place.

    That’s all I’m saying. No need to poison the blog with political trash…

  53. Chrös permalink
    September 13, 2010

    Thanks for the explanation, Brian. I can understand that thinking, especially coming from the levels of FIFA. I guess for me, I feel like there might be a little too much structure being forced into something that needs to grow more organically. There is definitely a fine line, though. With too little organization, we get more of the USL turnover that you have reported on here. But I also fear that the heavy amount of structure US Soccer is putting on the proposed second division might be too much too soon. I just don’t think there is a big enough market to attract the owners and facilities that they want. But at the same time, if US Soccer pushes the league to improve faster than it would naturally, maybe all the new money etc., will make the second division grow faster than I am expecting.

    So, all in all, I am basically flip-flopping. Would love to see the second division grow, because I believe that is the best we will have in Minnesota for a long time. But I also don’t want to see the Stars/Thunder go under if they can’t reach (what, as of right now, appear to be) unrealistic expectations.

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