Wednesday, November 10, 2004
TAMPA, FL – United Soccer Leagues announced Wednesday that the organization and its member professional teams have restructured the two professional leagues, A-League and Pro Soccer League, under the USL umbrella to form a new two-tiered professional division.
The two tiers of USL’s professional division will be officially referred to as the USL First Division and USL Second Division, eliminating the A-League name adopted by the then independent American Professional Soccer League in 1995.
“This is the culmination of an effort we have been working on over the past two years to increase the overall connectivity between our two professional leagues,” said USL Vice President Tim Holt. “Although the name change may be the most visible component, the new organizational and financial standards policies instituted as part of this restructuring will be far more significant for all of our professional teams and for prospective franchisees. The move away from the A-League name, in a way, is symbolic of the shift in the operation and unification of the USL professional leagues.”
Among the significant changes in place are the adoption of a single table by the USL First Division, the official capping of the USL First Division to 16 teams and the introduction of a 28-game primarily balanced schedule in which all teams will play each other home and away once in the USL First Division supplemented with an equal number of additional rivalry games. To further emphasize regular season excellence, the regular season champion will be awarded the Commissioner’s Cup, which was utilized by the APSL prior to the league’s merger with USL before to the 1997 season.
“I know my return came with expectations from outsiders that the revolutionary ideas of shootouts and blue cards would come back, but those experiments stemmed from the open mind I have always had to new concepts,” said USL President Francisco Marcos. “The format of the standings table and the schedule is something the teams and USL have been aiming for and has been a part of the strategic planning with the expected restructuring coming. I guess you could now say we are being revolutionary by moving toward the traditional.”
“Although we have recognized all of our regular season champions at our AOM in the past, the new USL First Division schedule is the most balanced it has been in years and gives us the opportunity to honor a true season champion in addition to the traditional playoff champion,” added Marcos. “Using the Commissioner’s Cup will be a tip of the hat to the outstanding history of the A-League.”
“The cap of 16 teams was instituted for both economic and competitive reasons,” added Holt. “We feel it will not only add to the value of the current franchises, but will spur growth in the second tier of the professional division as a point of entry for new franchises with significant ambitions.”
The professional division of United Soccer Leagues will consist of 21 teams in 2005 with 12 in the USL First Division and nine in the USL Second Division.
The top flight will be comprised of the Atlanta Silverbacks, Charleston Battery, Minnesota Thunder, Portland Timbers, Puerto Rico Islanders, Richmond Kickers, Rochester Raging Rhinos, Seattle Sounders, Toronto Lynx, Vancouver Whitecaps, Virginia Beach Mariners and the defending champion Montreal Impact.
“On behalf of the owners, we feel that the changes being made are a step in the right direction and are excited about what the future holds,” said Montreal Impact President Joey Saputo, chairman of the USL Strategic Planning Committee. “We have a wonderful history, but are anxious for a new beginning under this unified vision for the future.”
The USL Second Division will be eastern-based in 2005 with the 2004 finalist Charlotte Eagles, Harrisburg City Islanders, Long Island Rough Riders, New Hampshire Phantoms, Northern Virginia Royals, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Western Mass Pioneers and Wilmington Hammerheads all returning with the addition of a new franchise in Cincinnati.
The PSL’s California Gold and San Diego Gauchos have moved to the Premier Development League. The PDL alignment will be announced Thursday, November 11. The Milwaukee Wave United of the A-League and Utah Blitzz of the PSL will not be competing in USL in 2005.
The restructuring of the USL professional division has initially set the USL First Division Championship Playoffs to consist of eight teams if there are greater than 14 teams in the league and six if there are fewer than 14, which is the case with 12 in 2005. The two-leg, aggregate score series will continue to be used with the top two seeds receiving byes to the second round if it is a six-team field. The single-game championship with the host determined by a bid process between the two participants will continue to be used.
The USL Second Division will also utilize the same schedule format for 2005 for a 20-game season with the playoffs consisting of four teams. The top four teams will advance to the postseason with the two-leg, aggregate score series format being utilized for the semifinals. The single-game championship with the host determined by a bid process between the two participants will also be used.
USL also announced that overtime has been eliminated for both tiers of the professional division for the regular season. Overtime, two 15-minute periods, will be utilized in the postseason for knock-out games and will be played in its entirety as per FIFA regulation with no golden goal.