e’re not trying to put a team in California and everyone else on the East Coast,” says Steven Short, the United Soccer League D3 vice president. “We understand that can be detrimental.”
Regional rivalries are everything for the USL – and this will especially be the case for its new division three league, which is due to kick off in 2019.
So much so that its conferences or divisions will be designed to keep plane travel – the bane of professional soccer teams across North America – to an absolute minimum.
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“Our regional model is to build rivalries and reduce costs and by putting a large front office and a large team on a plane it gets very expensive, very quickly,” Short told The Telegraph in a telephone interview.
“We are trying to limit expenses as much as possible for teams and travel costs are a massive line item for any pro sports team.
“We will try to keep teams to a bus-type transport where you can travel the night before and then travel home instead of flying 20 players and staff hundreds or thousands of miles that will cost thousands and thousands of dollars.”
The announcement of USL D3 in early April was hugely significant for the North American soccer pyramid.
After the USL gained provisional division two sanctioning in January, a gap existed at the division three level and the Tampa-based organisation quickly sought to fill the void.
Subject to sanctioning by the United States Soccer Federation, USL D3 will start with eight to 12 teams in 2019 – though Short is “optimistic” that the number will be higher.
“We knew when we made a commitment to division two sanctioning 20 months ago there would be a void at division three level,” says Short.
“That’s when we made our planning to move into the division three ranks again. This isn’t something we devised overnight, it isn’t a reaction to anything in the landscape – it is part of our long-term planning for the league.
“We will begin announcements about the league and new teams in the coming months.”
On a sanctioning decision, he adds: “It’s not an overnight process – we have to make sure all the stadiums and owners meet USSF criteria.”
Last week another potential division three league was announced -Peter Wilt’s National Independent Soccer Association, which will seek to align with the NASL and NPSL.
Short, though, is focused only on his new league and the prospect of bringing professional soccer to untapped markets.
Thus far Short and his team have travelled to numerous cities, starting in the South East with Lexington (Kentucky), Knoxville (Tennessee), Asheville (North Carolina), Greenville (South Carolina) and Columbia (South Carolina).
A trip to the Mid West followed to the likes of Dayton (Ohio), Fort Wayne (Indiana), Toledo (Ohio), Lancing (Michigan) and Grand Rapids (Michigan).
Further trips to the Mid West and the North East – including Portland (Maine), Providence (Rhode Island), Albany (New York), Springfield (Massachusetts), Worcester (Massachusetts) and Des Moines (Iowa) – are planned.
Somewhat surprisingly, details of all the trips have been made public – usually expansion announcements in US pro soccer are kept top secret.
But Short explains: “We are using our social media and web content to show the world how we are launching a new professional league and I believe we are more forthcoming than any other league when it comes to expansion – which is fun for the league and fun for the fans as well.
“Everyone wants to know want we are doing but it allows people to have a voice in their market and say, ‘We want pro soccer here – come here.’
“We’re able to show fans what makes those cities so special and people are asking us if we’re going to visit their cities.
“It is an opportunity that many leagues don’t have and so for us to do it is very exciting.”
Short indicated that current USL division two teams – such as reserve or affiliate teams – will not move down to the new division three league in the near term.
But he did reveal that movement between the leagues is possible in the future.
“We’ll look at the best way to implement promotion and relegation but that takes a strong basis to build off of. It’s definitely something that we’re approaching and looking into.”
USL D3 will expand through regional conferences initially but