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Whitecaps announce USL affiliation with expansion side Fresno FC

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The Vancouver Whitecaps will continue their stake in USL next season, but it won’t be with their current affiliate.

[ MORE: Caleb Porter out with the Portland Timbers ]

The Western Conference side announced on Friday that it will bring a new affiliate into USL in 2018 as Fresno FC makes its debut in the Division II league.

In the wake of this decision by the Whitecaps, the club’s current USL side, Vancouver Whitecaps 2, won’t be returning to the league in the near future.

“First of all, we would like to thank every person who has worked tirelessly with Whitecaps FC 2 over the past three seasons,” said Whitecaps FC president Bob Lenarduzzi. “With both the USL and Canadian soccer landscapes evolving, now is the right time to make this change for our club. We are delighted to be working with Fresno FC, where the USL will provide the opportunity for high-level competition that will benefit our first team in MLS in the future. We expect that the internal competition for playing time at Fresno FC will provide a tremendous and challenging environment for our top young players.”

The relationship between Vancouver and Fresno will operate similarly to the club’s former status with Whitecaps 2, which allows the senior team to send players down and sign them to MLS contracts when seen fit by the club.

Former MLS manager Frank Yallop serves as general manager for the new USL side, while Adam Smith has been named Fresno’s first head coach.

Report: Cal United FC to tab Preki as first coach

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for New York Red Bulls
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Cal United FC may not know where they are going to play next season, but the first-year club knows its boss.

SocTakes.com’s Nipun Chopra reports that Predrag “Preki” Radosavljević will be the first head coach of the Fullerton-based club.

[ MORE: Rochester Rhinos in jeopardy ]

The report also says current technical director Eric Wynalda will continue in his gig for now despite running for U.S. Soccer Federation president.

That’s a bit ironic, as Cal United FC is slated to begin play in the NASL next season even though the league’s status remains hazy thanks to USSF regulations and pending legal action.

Capped 28 times by the USMNT, Preki has coached Toronto FC, Sacramento Republic, Chivas USA, and Saint Louis FC. He led the Republic to the 2014 USL title.

Rochester Rhinos announce need for $1.3 million by end of month

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Fifteen days.

That’s how long the Rochester community has to get their USL team’s budget over the line, or one of the most celebrated clubs in modern American history is done.

The Rhinos are the last non-MLS team to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and have claimed four other titles including the 2015 USL Cup. They once regularly averaged 10,000-plus in attendance during a sustained MLS push, but have since seen a dramatic drop-off to 2,000 fans a game despite making the playoffs in 21 of 22 seasons.

[ MORE: Australia clinches World Cup spot ]

What’s cause those problems? Some point to the location of their soccer-specific stadium, while others say the community never got over the failure to join MLS. Regardless, supporters have not come close to filling the facility, one which boasted 15,000-plus for hometown hero Abby Wambach’s post-World Cup homecoming against the WNY Flash in 2015. The Flash moved to North Carolina after the 2016 season.

Rochester’s celebrated coach, Bob Lilley, left the club for Pittsburgh on Tuesday, leaving Wednesday’s community press conference with Rochester owner Dave and Wendy Dworkin, minority owners of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, to loom large.

Here’s what was announced:

The Rhinos estimate that $1.3 million in support is needed to protect the franchise, sourced from jersey sponsorships, season tickets, suites and new corporate sponsorships. In addition, the team is seeking a representative portion of Monroe County Hotel Room Occupancy Tax revenues, of which it currently receives zero.

Here’s how longtime Rochester soccer writer/booster Jeff DiVeronica phrased it:

That 2500 figure is 500 more than the aforementioned reported average last season. It’s a massive ask, and the Dworkins saved the club from disaster with a purchase before the 2016 USL season. It’s easier to imagine Rochester-area businesses laying out sponsorship dough than a rush of season ticket holders and a share of the hotel revenue tax.

Let’s hope for it: The Rhinos are an important club in modern American soccer.

This comes on the heels of more significant growth for the league, which announced a Memphis team and Atlanta United affiliate this week. The USL also announced the rebranding of Harrisburg City as Penn FC on Wednesday.

USL announce deal for expansion franchise in Memphis

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Memphis will have a USL team in 2019.

[ MORE: Ranking MLS expansion chances ]

Speaking to Memphis Business Journal, USL President Jake Edwards confirmed the second-tier of North American soccer has agreed a deal with an ownership group for a second team in Tennessee which will debut in the 2019 season.

Tennessee’s first USL team, Nashville SC, will debut in the 2018 season but the future of that team is a little uncertain given Nashville steaming ahead with its plans for an Major League Soccer expansion franchise which could be announced next month.

Anyway, back to Memphis, where a group put together named the Memphis Redbirds are behind the bid.

“We have approved an ownership group,” Edwards said of the Memphis bid. “We have approved the stadium plan they have presented to us, and we have now approved moving forward with Memphis to have a USL club starting for the 2019 season.”

Memphis Redbirds president, general manager and minority owner, Craig Unger, added that “Memphis is a tremendous sports city with passionate fans and supporters. Coupled with the continued revitalization of Downtown, the time has never been better for investment in the city and its people.”

It remains to be seen if this USL franchise in Memphis would become an affiliated team with Nashville if they were successful with their MLS bid, or if Nashville SC’s USL side would simply become their reserve squad (Nashville SC II, if you will). Either way, having a regional rival in Tennessee is a great idea and we’ve seen how meaningful local rivalries have helped the growth of key American soccer markets in the past few years, especially with the Cascadia region.

USL will also have a team debuting nearby in Birmingham, Alabama in 2019, plus a new USL team is planned for Austin, Texas after previous forays in that market. However, it remains unclear if that USL team will still go ahead ifMajor League Soccer franchise the Columbus Crew relocate from Columbus, Ohio to Texas.

With NASL locked into a lengthy legal battle with U.S. Soccer about losing its Division II status and the league’s future in jeopardy, the USL continues to go form strength-to-strength. Having MLS on board certainly helps and the partnerships between MLS clubs and either having their own reserve squads in the USL or an affiliated team have definitely led to more security and stability and played a big part in USL being sanctioned as a second-tier league.

With the arrival of Memphis, Austin and Birmingham in 2019, plus Nashville, Las Vegas, Gwinnett County and Fresno in 2018 it is expected USL will grow to 37 teams. However, with the threat of losing FC Cincinnati, Nashville SC and Sacramento Republic to MLS as they bid for MLS expansion, there will likely be outgoings too.

Still, to grow from 14 teams in 2014 to 30 in 2017 has been an incredible amount of growth for USL and they’ve been very smart in targeting connected soccer communities across the USA and Canada. That was further showcased by a raucous crowd in Louisville, Kentucky on Monday to see Louisville City FC beat Swope Park Rangers and become the 2017 USL champs.

Wild! Coach loses USL job to D-2 requirements

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Coaching changes happen all the time, but this is one you don’t see every day.

The USL’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds have hired one of the best coaches in league history away from rival Rochester Rhinos, but that’s not the rub of the story here

That Bob Lilley would be wanted by any number of teams is no surprise, but that he’s filling a vacancy caused by United States Soccer Federation’s requirement for Division II teams feels insane.

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USSF requirements demand that a coach should hold its A License. Dave Brandt doesn’t have one despite terrific tenures with NCAA Division III college power Messiah and the D-1 program at the Naval Academy.

Pittsburgh missed the playoffs this year while Lilley again led a the low-budget Rhinos to the playoffs with assistants Mark Pulisic (Yes, that’s Christian’s dad) and Brendan Murphy, so this is a terrific pickup for Rochester.

But Brandt left a decent gig at Navy for this spot. Was there no solution for US Soccer?

“We are highly disappointed with this news, but understand the necessity to comply with the league’s decision,” Riverhounds owner Tuffy Shallenberger said. “Dave has been nothing shy of first class since joining the organization. We are incredibly grateful for his contributions to the Riverhounds and he has left the team in a significantly better position than when he arrived.”

Heck of a name on that owner, to be sure!

On the surface, this isn’t the fault of the USL or the Riverhounds, rather the requirements of D-II sanctioning. And we’re sure that Brandt was given some sort of notice to sort it out.

Those have probably been under a microscope after the NASL sued the USSF, but at some point it’s ridiculous to punish a good coach that Pittsburgh wished to employ because he hasn’t gone to your classes.