Today’s news that the Western Mass Pioneers, who have been a very successful club at the USL Second Division level since 1998, would drop down to the Premier Development League is proof that while the drama is at the top, there’s plenty of churn at the lower levels of the United Soccer Leagues as well.
The clubs that have broken away from the USL First Division to attempt to form a rival league (the “new” North American Soccer League) are still seeking US Soccer Federation sanction for their new circuit. Meanwhile, USL’s other leagues continue to prepare for 2010. Here’s the latest on where things stand in USL, as best I can tell:
USL First Division (11 teams in 2009): Carolina, Miami, Minnesota, Montreal, Rochester and Vancouver have cast their lot with the NASL. Charleston self-relegated to USL-2 to stay out of the fracus, making them unquestionably the smartest guys in the room. Cleveland, a once-successful USL-2 team, couldn’t make the jump to USL-1 and folded after one year in the higher league. It appears as though Austin, Portland and Puerto Rico are the only three of last year’s USL-1 teams who plan to be back in the top flight in 2010 – if there is one. New York and Tampa Bay were to be USL-1 expansion teams in the coming year, but the “new” Rowdies tried to jump ship to the NASL (they’re currently being sued for trying) and FCNY doesn’t appear to have its act together. USL may be hoping that USSF brokers a compromise or forces the erstwhile teams to come back under the USL umbrella, if only for 2010, to satisfy apparent contractual obligations. I’m not sure there is a Plan B.
USL Second Division (9 teams in 2009): Bermuda staggered to the finish line last year and who knows if they’re prepared to give it a go in 2010? Charlotte, Harrisburg, Maryland, Pittsburgh and Richmond appear in, as does Charleston. Wilmington couldn’t find new investors and appear to be done. Baltimore jumped to the NASL (and are being sued by USL along with Tampa Bay and Rochester because of it). Western Mass self-relegated. I’m told that this division is small, but committed and prepared to go forward with the six (?) teams they have. (UPDATE: USL just announced the home openers for the USL-2 teams, and there’s no Bermuda. It’s Charleston, Charlotte, Harrisburg, Maryland and Pittsburgh. Six teams.)
Premier Development League (69 teams in 2009): USL’s largest division usually experiences some year-to-year flux, and there hasn’t been much news on who’s in and who’s out. Such is life in the quasi-amateur division. (UPDATE: USL announced that 68 teams will play in the PDL in 2010, a net loss of one from last year. Gone are the Austin Aztex U23s, Bradenton Academics, Bakersfield Brigade, Cascade Surge, Cary Clarets, Fredericksburg Gunners, Virginia Legacy, Rhode Island Stingrays, Fort Wayne Fever. Replacing them are unnamed teams in Ft. Lauderdale and Albany (NY), the Washington Crossfire, MPS Portland Phoenix, Dayton Dutch Lions and Vermont Voltage, and the self-relegated Western Mass Pioneers and Bermuda Hogges.)
W-League (37 teams in 2009): The women’s league has apparently lost a dozen teams from last year and has gained four new ones. A 29-team alignment was just announced last week. Some notable omissions: the Boston Renegades, who can trace their lineage back to 1995 and who appear to be concentrating on youth soccer; FC Indiana, a four-time national champion whose coach apparently has gone to Russia; and the Western Mass Lady Pioneers, who went 1-13 last year and may have been a victim of whatever economics played into their men’s team dropping down a level.
April is just over 100 days away now and something has to get sorted out at the top of the USL pyramid. The lower levels will continue to have their comings and goings (they always have), but it’s the USL-1/NASL dispute that’s drawing the attention at the moment. My guess? Either USSF holds out as long as it can before granting the NASL provisional Division II status for 2009 with a list of things they have to do to get full status in 2011 or they use the hammer to force a truce between the sides that sees them all compete under the same roof this season. Perhaps the cooling-off period can result in a reconciliation.
If you’ve ever lived under the same roof as your soon-to-be-ex-spouse (I have), you know it’s not the most fun you can have. But it wouldn’t be all that different from 2009, where the teams that have since broken away were just as estranged – it just wasn’t publicly obvious.