USL 2017 Conference Alignment Provides Balance

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Rather than bask in the glory of its newly-earned Division II status, the United Soccer League got to work planning its 2017 season. It took the first planning step on Monday by announcing its realigned conference structure. The league has swollen to 30 teams as a result of a business plan emphasizing aggressive expansion and geographic coverage. Last season the slightly imbalanced league featured 15 teams in the Western Conference, but only 14 in the East. This year the USL features an equal number of teams in each conference, but some of the names have changed.

USL 2017 Conference Alignment Provides Balance

The USL’s strong Eastern Conference produced the top three point-earning teams in the 2016 season and the champion New York Red Bulls II. This conference adds three new teams for 2017. The Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury FC, two refugees from the NASL, jump leagues to play their first season in the USL. They are joined by Saint Louis FC, who moves from the USL’s Western Conference to the East. Saint Louis FC is the USL affiliate of the MLS’ Chicago Fire.

The Eastern conference drops two teams from last year. FC Montréal was dissolved after the 2016 season. Parent MLS side Montréal impact will instead affiliate with the Ottawa Fury. The Wilmington Hammerheads have dropped out of the USL and will field a 2017 side in the PDL (Premier Development League). Overall, the East adds one team for a total of 15.

The Western Conference adds one expansion team in Reno 1868 FC. The team, whose name pays tribute to the year Reno was founded, is an affiliate of MLS’ San Jose Earthquakes. Reno 1868 will take the Western Conference slot that Saint Louis FC vacated, keeping the West at 15 total teams.

The 2017 USL season will feature a slightly longer calendar with each team playing 32 games rather than 30. 28 games will be played in home and away fixtures against each conference opponent, with the remaining four games being contested between local rivals. The USL regular season begins on March 24th and the full season schedule is expected to be released soon.

2017 USL Conference Alignment

Eastern Conference

Bethlehem Steel FC
Charleston Battery
Charlotte Independence
FC Cincinnati
Harrisburg City Islanders
Louisville City FC
New York Red Bulls II
Orlando City B
Ottawa Fury FC
Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Richmond Kickers
Rochester Rhinos
Saint Louis FC
Tampa Bay Rowdies
Toronto FC II

Western Conference

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
LA Galaxy II
OKC Energy FC
Orange County Blues FC
Phoenix Rising FC
Portland Timbers 2
Real Monarchs SLC
Reno 1868 FC
Rio Grande Valley FC
Sacramento Republic FC
San Antonio FC
Seattle Sounders FC 2
Swope Park Rangers
Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2