Soccer continues to grow here in North America, but league structure and how it is growing leaves room for debate as to whether this is a good thing. With MLS continuing to hand out franchises like hotcakes, we have seen the debuts of Atlanta and Minnesota this year. Both feature the boring names of “United FC”, though at least Minnesota has the great nickname of “Loons”. In spite of MLS’ fake desire for all teams in a soccer-specific stadium (Hi NYCFC), Atlanta will move into the football facility for the Falcons, Mercedes Benz Stadium, once it is completed later this year. In the meantime, they’ll play at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium. Up in Minnesota, TCF Bank Stadium once again stands in as a temporary solution as they will host the Loons until a soccer stadium is complete in Saint Paul. The league does see a new stadium open this year and it is a beauty. So far, Orlando City has done everything right and they have a gem of a stadium in downtown Orlando (and it was privately financed!). Check out the review of this fantastic facility from Soccer Stadium Digest.
The lower-level leagues continue to struggle to get organized as now we have two of them that are in “provisional” Division II status. The NASL is by far the one in worse shape as they saw Minnesota depart to MLS and Ottawa and Tampa Bay move to USL. The moving up a level by Minnesota means that we say goodbye to NSC Stadium, a longtime mainstay on The List. Two franchises folded: Rayo OKC and Fort Lauderdale. The latter actually moved from Lockhart Stadium to Central Broward Stadium (a cricket stadium!) in the middle of last season. That means longtime soccer home, Lockhart Stadium, is off The List as well. 2017 will be an 8-team league for the NASL, which means one new addition and that is the San Francisco Deltas, who will play in historic Kezar Stadium. Two other stadium notes: the Jacksonville Armada will play at Hodges Stadium on the campus of UNF as opposed to using the city’s ballpark, while the New York Cosmos do the opposite in moving from Hofstra to Brooklyn’s MCU Park.
The USL becomes the de facto #2 in the pyramid and while many of the teams play in ballparks, high school fields, training facilities, etc., there are a couple of success stories. One is Rio Grande Valley FC who opens the bright orange H-E-B Park in Edinburg. This is what the league’s teams should strive for. The Arizona team rebranded to Phoenix Rising FC and they also erected a 6,000-seat “Pop-Up” stadium in South Scottsdale. New to the league is Reno 1868 FC (playing on the ballfield for the Reno Aces) and folding is FC Montreal, as the Impact will become affiliated with Ottawa. Also gone from the league are the Wilmington Hammerheads, a familiar name for a few decades, as they have dropped down to PDL. Other stadium changes include Red Bulls 2 moving from a completely empty Red Bull Arena to Montclair State University and the Charlotte Independence heading to a new, but tiny (2,300-seat) sports complex in the suburb of Matthews, NC.