There has been much turmoil in minor league soccer in the US over the past year and thankfully the Kickers have been immune to just about all of it. And while some of that turmoil is now affecting them it looks like those changes will be minor. Quick overview of the turmoil The highest level […]
There has been much turmoil in minor league soccer in the US over the past year and thankfully the Kickers have been immune to just about all of it. And while some of that turmoil is now affecting them it looks like those changes will be minor.
Quick overview of the turmoil
The highest level of minor league soccer in the US had been the USL1 (formerly the USL A-League). Some of clubs in the USL1 were unhappy with the league over a couple things (the way the sale of the league was handled and their say in how things run) and decided to split off and form their own competitor league, recycling the name NASL. Neither the USL1 nor the NASL were able to get everyone on their side so the US Soccer Federation (USSF) stepped in and forced them to all play a season together as the USSFD2 league. The USSF did that as a one season stop gap until the leagues could figure out what they were going to do. The USSF also published requirements on what a league would have to do to be the D2 (just below MLS) league in the US. Those requirements likely eliminate a couple teams who played on that level and with 3 of the bigger teams moving up to MLS in the near future it makes things rather thin there.
The USL has decided to restructure and combine their two professional leagues (USL1 and USL2) into a single league with regional divisions called USL Pro. The Kickers have played in the USL2 for the past 5 years and previously played in the USL1 (mostly while it had it’s previous name the USL A-League). The changes that this will bring to minor league soccer are still getting worked out as clubs decide what they will do.
How it affects Kickers
I got a chance to speak to coach Leigh Cowlishaw about the changes and he said from a fan’s perspective they should be “minuscule”. The Kickers will still play against their main regional rivals such as the Charleston Battery, the Charlotte Eagles, and the Harrisburg City Islanders. Coach Cowlishaw said he expects there to be 12 to 18 teams in the USL Pro this year in 2 or 3 regional divisions. The biggest change would probably be an extra round or two of playoffs against the other regional divisions.
For the future
Whether the NASL is able to get enough teams to survive and play this season remains to be seen and it will affect the future of minor league soccer in the US quite a bit. If they don’t then the USL Pro becomes the de-facto second level of professional soccer in the US. If they do then USL Pro is likely considered a the third level. Coach Cowlishaw said the Kickers are ambitious but also want to be smart about what level they play given the size of our market. It sounds like the Kickers will continue to play in regional soccer for the foreseeable future and work on their goal of advancing the beautiful game here in Richmond. We can all look forward to that!