United Soccer League rebrand is just what U.S. soccer needed

The United Soccer League is rebranding to finally give U.S. soccer a solid structure when it comes to the lower leagues.  Beginning in 2019, the United Soccer League (USL) will become three leagues, but with a common brand identity. The highest level of USL will be known as the USL Championship and will maintain division II status within the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), the governing body of U.S soccer.  The USL D3, which was founded in 2017 with plans to start playing in 2019, will be renamed USL League One. Finally, the USL-operated Premier Development League will become the USL League Two.

usl championship
United Soccer League’s new logos

This new structure and branding strategy are directly modeled after the English Football League, the governing body of England’s second, third and fourth divisions which are also named League Championship, League One and League Two.  England has the strongest lower-league soccer system in the world, which makes perfect sense why the USL would look at the English Football League when trying to develop a brand identity and grow commercially.

The USL Championship will start 2019 with 33 teams. USL League One will begin with 11 teams with plans to increase to 25-30 clubs in the coming years. USL League Two with have over 80 teams playing in 3 conferences.

By the spring of 2019, the USSF pyramid will be structured as follows:

Division 1: Major League Soccer.  

Division 2: USL Championship

Division 3: USL League One

Division 4: USL League Two

This is a simple and linear pyramid with common branding that is easy to follow.  While it’s important for fans to understand the league structure, it is even more important for commercial purposes when marketing the leagues and aligning with commercial partners.  Each level of USL brings new excitement to small-market cities across the country. The USL Championship is considered the “pinnacle of the competition.” The brand new USL League One is “the foundation of professional soccer.”  The USL League Two will be “the elite pre-professional tier in North American soccer and the established developmental platform for U-23 and collegiate players”. USL League Two will be an amateur league and is branded as the #Path2Pro.  

To put the new league structure into perspective, this is what the USSF pyramid looked like in 2016:

Division 1: Major League Soccer

Division 2: North American Soccer League (NASL)

Division 3: USL

Division 4: Premier Development League (run by USL)

 

USSF pyramid during 2017:

Division 1: Major League Soccer

Division 2: NASL and USL

Division 3: VACANT

Division 4: Premier Development League (run by USL)

Until 2017, the North American Soccer League had Division II status and the USL had Division III status.  In 2017, the USL was granted Division II status, with plans to fill the void they would leave behind in the third division with a new USL D3 (now rebranded as USL League One). For a short period of time, the USL and the NASL both had Division II status, yet remained separate entities.  Due to many problems within the NASL, many NASL clubs were jumping ship to join the USL. The NASL no longer sanctioned by the USSF.

If the USL rebrand proves to be a success, we might see promotion/relegation in the United States, something that will surely bring more excitement and relevance not just to USL, but to all of U.S soccer. The new USL rebrand is perfect for a for promotion and relegation league structure.  According to USL, “The United Soccer League is focused on establishing a successful new third division in USL League One to help fill out the professional U.S. soccer structure, which is a necessary precursor to any implementation of a promotion and relegation system. That said, the new structure does lend itself well to some form of promotion and relegation in the future.”  It is important to remember that the USL is not associated with the MLS, and the USL is not focused on trying to create a promotion/relegation system with MLS at the moment. However, a sustainable and well funded lower league structure is the only way that a pro/rel system will ever come to MLS.

The USL’s new league structure will hopefully help the development of young American players, considering that youth development isn’t something that the U.S. is known for.  With a new professional league in USL League One and presumably increased funding in the USL Championship and USL League Two, we should see more homegrown players make their way from USL to the MLS and hopefully to the U.S National Team.

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