Expansion Tracker: MLS, NWSL, USL, CPL, PDL, NPSL & more (December 2017)

Utah Royals (NWSL)
Utah Royals (NWSL)

League soccer is wrapping up for 2017 with the MLS Cup set for Saturday, December 9th. But by no means is the activity around the various leagues quiet. Over the past month, a flurry of new clubs across the lower divisions in US soccer have been announced. Here is an updated look at the confirmed expansion sides for each league in the years ahead – as well as a few expansion rumors and comments on the current state of the leagues.

MLS (D1)

  • Current State: 22 teams in 2017, two divisions of 11.
  • 2018: Los Angeles FC
  • 2019: Miami (Beckham’s franchise – still yet to be formally confirmed), plus a potential relocation of the Columbus Crew to Austin, TX.
  • 2020: Teams 25 & 26 from Cincinnati, Sacramento, Nashville, or Detroit (set to be announced later this month).
  • 2021 or 2022: Teams 27 & 28 (one from the two not selected for 2020, plus one from Raleigh, Phoenix, Tampa Bay, San Antonio, Charlotte, St. Louis, San Diego or Indianapolis).
  • Outlook: Strong. Even with the issue over #SaveTheCrew, MLS will be at 28 clubs by 2022, setting attendance and TV records. There will be new stadiums, and the talent keeps getting younger.

NWSL (D1)

  • Current State: 10 clubs in 2017.
  • 2018: The FC Kansas City franchise has been relocated to Salt Lake City, UT as the Utah Royals.
  • 2019: Atlanta United (MLS) and Barcelona (La Liga) are rumored to be looking to start NWSL clubs as early as 2019. Barcelona’s location would likely be a major-market such as LA, Miami or NYC.
  • Outlook: Stabilizing. The focus for the next few years is ensuring that clubs and the league are financially stable. Primary goals are growing player salaries and improving revenue.

USL (D2)

  • Current State: 28 teams in 2017 split into Eastern and Western conferences.
  • 2018: Fresno FC, Las Vegas Lights FC, Nashville SC, and North Carolina FC (joining from NASL), and an unnamed club near Atlanta, GA (owned by Atlanta United).
  • 2019: Birmingham, Memphis & potentially an Austin franchise depending on how the Columbus Crew situation plays out.
  • 2020: Chicago (a new downtown stadium).
  • Outlook: Growing. While the league will likely lose three or four clubs to MLS expansion in the next four to five years, USL should be well over 30 teams by that point. Attendance is growing and clubs are bringing in new or renovated stadiums.

NASL (D_?)

  • Current State: Lost D2 status earlier this year and is currently going through the appeal process in a suit against the US Soccer Federation.
  • 2018: California United FC (Fullerton, CA) and San Diego 1904 FC scheduled to join the league if it operates in 2018. (Update) There are also 7 NPSL clubs that signed letters of intent to join the league to help it maintain D2 status. A few NASL owners would have to put up the funds to help those clubs join the league, as well as stadium and roster budget increases required.
  • Outlook: Nearly dead. Only 5 of the 8 clubs from 2017 are still with the league, including Puerto Rico, which will likely need to sit out a year or two. The league has struggled financially and organizationally since its return.

USLD3 (D3)

  • Current State: Currently visiting locations around the US to assess readiness for D3 status, or help instruct what is needed by the target launch in 2019.
  • 2018: Will continue evaluating markets and proposals.
  • 2019: The league has already visited a huge number of interested cities, including Lexington, KY, Knoxville, TN, Asheville, NC, Greensville, SC, Columbia, SC, Dayton, OH, Fort Wayne, IN, Toledo, OH, Lansing, MI, Grand Rapids, MI, Des Moines, IA, High Point, NC, Fayetteville, NC, Statesboro, GA, Macon, GA, Huntsville, AL, Montgomery, AL, Mobile, AL, Portland, ME, Manchester, NH, Worchester, MA, and Providence, RI.
  • Outlook: Promising. There has been huge interest so far, and I expect the league to launch with around 15-20 teams. Can easily hit the 30-40 range within a few years. Will see new markets and teams move up from the PDL and some move down from the USL who aren’t yet ready for D2 standards.
NISA Logo
NISA Logo (Credit: NISAofficial.com)

NISA (D3?)

  • Current State: A potential D3 league that wants to create an open tier system across the 2nd and 4th levels. Waiting for the outcome of the NASL situation.
  • 2018: Chattanooga, Connecticut, and Miami have been accepted into the league, whenever it starts.
  • 2019: Charlotte, Omaha, Milwaukee, and St. Louis submitted bids, but require improvements in order to join the project.
  • Outlook: Bold idea. Until NISA gets closer to fruition, it’s a beacon for the Pro/Rel camp and those who don’t like the MLS. Could eventually see a collaboration with remaining NASL teams, new NISA clubs, and the NPSL. Likely won’t start until the fall of 2018 or in 2019.

PDL (D4)

  • Current State: 72 clubs in 2017.
  • 2018: 5 new clubs are set to join – Lionsbridge FC (Virginia Peninsula), Ogden City SC (Ogden, Utah), Corpus Christi FC (TX), AHFC Royals (Houston) & Lansing United (MI). Lansing is already looking at a move to USLD3 in 2019.
  • 2019: Birmingham, AL
  • Outlook: Strong. the PDL’s connection to USL and MLS makes it a stable organization, and a known path from college to the top level. Their motto is #Path2Pros.

NPSL (D4)

  • Current State: 96 clubs competed in the 2017 season.
  • 2018: 7 new clubs set to join the league, taking the total over 100! FC Baltimore (Baltimore, MD), Katy 1895 FC (Katy, TX), Laredo Heat Soccer Club (Laredo, TX), Greenville Football Club (Greenville, SC), El Farolito (San Francisco, CA), Academica Soccer Club (Turlock, CA), and Football Club Davis (Davis, CA)
  • Outlook: Strong. Like it’s D4 counterpart PDL, the NPSL is booming with teams, and interest among investors and fans. Could easily see expand upward in the future without NISA or NASL, taking their top 20-30 clubs into the USSF sanctioned D3 tier.

CPL (D1)

  • Current State: A newly planned Canadian Premier League, set to be a D1 league.
  • 2018: Hamilton and Winnipeg are the only two confirmed cities for the initial launch so far.
  • 2019: Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Moncton, New Brunswick, Regina, Surrey, and  Saskatoon have all shown interest or been rumored to be adding clubs either at the launch or within the first few seasons.
  • Outlook: Needed. While like NISA, the CPL is currently just an idea, this one is far more necessary in my opinion. Canada needs a fully functional league to help develop the game, to support youth and national team soccer. The timing is perfect, as the league would have a few years of getting started before hopefully co-hosting WC2026.

WPSL

  • Current State: 106 clubs participated in the 2017 season. (A decade ago that number was 22).
  • 2018: Two new clubs have already been confirmed for next season – Asheville City (also in the NPSL) and Discoveries Soccer Club from Rock Hill, SC.
  • Outlook: The league has a new president and commissioner for 2018. Look for continued growth, reorganization across the regional divisions and overall structure/vision for the league moving forward.

9 thoughts on “Expansion Tracker: MLS, NWSL, USL, CPL, PDL, NPSL & more (December 2017)

    • Nathan Reynolds Post authorReply

      Right now, planning monthly, so some time mid-January most likely.

  1. Yohn B Voker Reply

    By the way for the NWSL, it’s an ownership group in Atlanta who wanted to plan an NWSL team, not Atlanta United.

  2. Erik Matson Reply

    My basic question is why have you not considered in the above statification, the ASL. The American Soccer League is the oldest soccer-related brand in the US. It is a functioning league with currently 8 teams; with between 12-14 teams coming on board in the fall of 2018. It (and possibly 6 additional on the west coast) has been operating for the past 4+ years and is the only league in the US that has all pro contracts (no amateurs at all); all entered in the TMS and with well-known brands such as the Philadelphia Fury and Philadelphia Atoms. It is focused on the developent of the American player (with 7 Americans having to be on the pitch at any one time) – we have put 4 players into higher level European leagues over the past two years and have 2 being considered currently for the same.

    The PDL, NPSL and UPSL are all amateur leagues and should not be categorized as “D4” – especially since there is not a sanctioned 4th division in the US. When this occurs, which most likely will not happen within the next year, the ASL will have expanded to over 24 teams and be national in footprint – again, with only pro players and all registered on the TMS…

    • Nathan Reynolds Post authorReply

      The site is currently inactive, but I will definitely look into adding the ASL if I start it up again. Thanks for the notes and I’ll be sure to read up more on the league since I wasn’t as familiar with it compared to the PDL and NPSL.

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