Memphis will have a USL team in 2019.
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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.