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Building new league for America's professional soccer pyramid
USL Division III kicks off in 2019
 
Published Thursday, June 1, 2017 4:47 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

USL is launching its Division III league in 2019.

The American soccer pyramid is still growing.

USL Division III will enter the professional sphere in 2019, joining the first-division MLS, second level NASL and USL, and fourth tier NPSL.

“This is something that we’ve been working on over at USL for over 18 months, and as we prepared and pursued Division II it was also a plan to redeploy our successful blueprint into Division III,” USL Division III Vice President Steven Short said. “For us, the announcement was in early April. It was time to go public if you would, and let everybody know of our intention. We’ve been able to exhibit what our league can do, and that being the success of attaining Division II status and strengthening our league over the years.”

USL’s transition from Division III to Division II left a void in the pyramid, which the new league fills.

“It left about 75 million people without access to professional soccer,” Short said. “Part of our intent is that we can operate effectively and sustainably, which we’ve proven to do, and provide more access to the game across the country. Right now, with USL at Division II, we have 30 teams—31 if you include Nashville and several more to announce later this year who will start in 2018-2020. We’re excited to see that growth, but at the same time at the Division II level there are criteria that are set forth by U.S. Soccer, whether it’s market size, ownership net worth, stadium capacity, front office size as you look at the different divisions of professional soccer they scale.”

USL Division III would complement rather than potentially replace PDL, which has 72 teams.

“As we look at Division III we really look at deploying that same blue print that was able to make Division II a success, but we’re able to go into markets that are between 150,000 to a million in population and stadiums with a seating capacity of 3,500 rather than a 5,000 plus push,” Short said. “Once those players who are playing in PDL move out of that to pursue their professional dreams, and there’s a professional team in the market that provides them with that opportunity. We’ll look at highly performing PDL teams or PDL teams that are in markets of interest for us that may look to make that move to Division III. There will be some places where they can coexist.”

USL does not intend to pursue placing a third division club in Charlotte, a market consisting of USL (Charlotte Independence), PDL (Charlotte Eagles), F.C. Carolina United (NPSL) and a potential MLS expansion site.

“We’re looking at new markets for new fans, and I believe with Charlotte’s existing footprint the D3 rivalry with teams within proximity is definitely a strength, but we are not targeting existing MLS or USL markets with teams already operating and existing for Division III expansion,” said Short.

Desired expansion markets consist of population between 150,000 to 1 million people, a “strong local ownership groups, populations with broad-based diversity, a vibrant millennial and strong family base, established corporate support, and stadiums to properly showcase the sport for fans, partners and the public,” per the league. Division III stadiums would need to seat a minimum of 3,500 fans.

“The goal was for our Division II teams to be in soccer-specific stadiums or the primary tenant of a stadium by 2020, and part of that being that push for the soccer-specific stadiums to be in the neighborhood of 10,000 seats for the longevity and sustainability of the franchises,” Short said.

Since the expansion announcement, Short and other league members have been on an American soccer tour exploring potential markets for third division clubs, such as Asheville (current club: Ashville City S.C. in NPSL) or Columbia, South Carolina.

“We’re really trying to experience the soccer culture in those cities,” Short said. “While you can read a lot about it, and you can watch social media and hear about it, it’s important for the league to be on the ground to experience it.”

Ideally, Division III clubs will step into preexisting facilities.

“As part of that we’re also visiting venues that are available within those markets so that if something is already in place and can be utilized more, you don’t have to worry about building facilities,” Short said. “While some may look at building stadiums for Division III, I think we’re going to be able to utilize a lot of the existing infrastructure in the cities we visit.”

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