In his Keynote Address to the SoccerEx Connected Conference on Wednesday, USL President Jake Edwards spoke about meeting the unprecedented challenges of 2020, the togetherness it has forged among both the staff at the United Soccer League and across the organization’s 47 professional clubs, and the bright future that still lies ahead for the game in North America. Edwards also discussed social activism and expansion, as well as stadium and infrastructure developments occurring in the buildup to the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup to be held in the United States, Mexico and Canada.
To our friends and colleagues around the world… it is my pleasure to welcome you to Day Three of Soccerex Connected.
I’m Jake Edwards, President of the United Soccer League, and on behalf of USL Chief Executive Officer, Alec Papadakis, and everyone at USL HQ, I want to send you all our warmest greetings and best wishes.
While we would much rather be together, in person, sharing a dinner, a beer, and a laugh… it has been terrific to see so many familiar and smiling faces over the past two days.
If there has been a consistent theme at this year’s event, it is the challenges of the past few months, and it’s true that no discussion about the days ahead are complete without mention of where we’ve been.
The reality is that much has changed since we were last together.
2020 has been disruptive.
It’s been challenging.
At times heartbreaking, even.
It will be remembered as one of the most difficult years of our lives.
And while many complicated issues still face us: A pandemic, societal unrest, and general uncertainty over what the days ahead will bring, I want to take a moment to acknowledge a positive. A silver lining, if you will.
Here at USL, the last six months have tested us in ways we could have not previously imagined. It’s been difficult. Long days. Short nights. And countless weekends on the phone – or staring at a computer – troubleshooting whatever new issue lies before us.
But that experience, of being in a trench with one another and being forced to find solutions, it’s brought us closer together. Here at USL, we are a more cohesive, together, and tight-knit group than we were going into the year.
That’s true of our clubs as well – all of whom have spent countless hours in their community, serving as agents of positive change, and helping the places they call home heal.
And I have no doubt that this sense of collaboration and togetherness that exists within OUR family, also exists in yours. And because of that, as a collective footballing community, perhaps we ALL are closer for this shared experience.
Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
As the largest and fastest growing professional soccer organization in North America, one bright spot over the past few months has been the recognition that despite the challenges before us, interest in the game has never been higher.
With the Men’s World Cup now just six short years away, we here at USL – like many in North America – stand on the precipice of explosive growth.
Not only are we currently in conversations with over 40 communities around the United States who have expressed interest in USL Championship or League One expansion – a few of which, I’m happy to say, will be announced in the coming months – but we also continue to make great strides on another goal of great importance to us.
You see one of the most important strategic objectives for us between now and the 2026 World Cup is the development of stadium-anchored mixed-use development projects that not only bring a professional soccer club to the community, but also add to the vitality of that community through economic impact, job creation and the overall betterment of the surrounding area.
This objective also helps to ensure that we are delivering on our mission statement of bringing the professional game to new communities across the country, and by establishing our clubs as some of the most competitive, compelling, and professional organizations of their kind anywhere in the world.
To highlight our commitment, it’s worth noting that the USL and its partners currently have nearly $1 billion committed to stadium development across the United States.
One recent example of our commitment has been the unveiling of an amazing new venue in Louisville, where club ownership has brought to life a 11,700-seat downtown stadium that will serve a community gathering place for generations to come.
Louisville City FC's Lynn Family Stadium opened this year, ushering in a new era of stadium development across the United Soccer League. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
In fact, of the 47 professional clubs in the Championship and League One, 34 currently play in soccer-specific stadiums or sites retrofitted for professional soccer, with additional projects currently under development in Providence, Oklahoma City, Colorado Springs, South Georgia, Buffalo, Des Moines, and many others… some of which have not yet been announced but that we’ll be talking about soon.
While 2020 has not slowed our ambition or growth, it has, unfortunately, limited the extent to which we can be together with our fans. However, despite these short-term setbacks, one area that bring us immense joy is the rise of an authentic American supporters’ culture.
From Louisville to Madison… from Oakland to New Mexico… from Phoenix to El Paso… USL fans continue to represent their communities in ways that soccer has never before seen.
Deeply invested to their communities. Tribal. Passionate. Using their sport for purpose and societal good. USL supporters across the country continue to push the limits of what American soccer can and will become.
Photo courtesy Josh Lane / New Mexico United
As a collection of community clubs, we cannot lose sight of the fact that supporters and players will always be our two most important stakeholders. And like any important relationships, that requires standing alongside them on issues of great importance.
The reality is that we sit today at a high-water mark when it comes to athletes using their platform as professionals to express themselves on issues across both sport and society.
Times have changed in this regard – certainly since my playing days, at least – and it’s important that we do to. As an organization, it is absolutely imperative that we listen, support, and adapt.
We have to stand in solidarity with those who are experiencing issues like racism, oppression, and societal injustice. And while statements and gestures are a good start, we must also commit to more substantive measures – including working to ensure that our workplaces off the field reflect the diversity we see on it. In this regard, I believe we can all do better… USL included.
And we will.
Photo courtesy Steven Christy / OKC Energy FC
Lastly, to the Soccerex staff: On behalf of USL we want to say thank you.
Every year, you put on a tremendous event that not only educates and informs, but brings the footballing community together in very special ways.
We know the coming days will bring with them good times and great discussion. And we’re looking forward to taking part.
From Tampa, Florida, welcome to day three of Soccerex connected and please know that all of us here at the United Soccer League looking forward to being together live and in person with you again soon.