On Friday morning, the United Soccer League (USL) announced the conference alignment for the 2018 regular season. The league will feature 33 teams across two conferences (Eastern & Western) with the most notable change seeing regional rival Saint Louis FC shift back to the West.
The conferences will feature 16 teams in the East and 17 teams in the West with a total of 33 clubs for the 2018 season. This seemingly puts to bed a rumor that a current NASL club could be the 34th franchise for 2018. Expansion clubs Las Vegas Lights FC and Fresno FC will join the West while ATL UTD 2, North Carolina FC, Indy Eleven, and Nashville SC will play in the East. Orlando City B has elected not to play this season in D2, but may rejoin a USL D3 league in 2019.
While the loss of a guaranteed two matches vs. Saint Louis FC could be disappointing for some fans, there is a possibility the clubs may face one another. Due to USL’s new 34 match schedule, the clubs in the West could have two open dates if they play each team in their conference twice (home and home). The Eastern teams may have 4 open dates if they play home and home as well. In the past, the USL has added an extra match for regional rivals with two matches vs. STLFC in 2016 and three in 2017.
The East/West alignment does guarantee that closer matches with Nashville, Louisville and Indianapolis will happen. We hope the USL does schedule an additional third match between FCC and these clubs for 2018. It would be disappointing not to play STLFC, but added matches where large amounts of fans could travel easily will be entertaining.
Many fans on social media have asked why Saint Louis was shifted to the West. It seems as if that club would benefit more from rivalries with Indy, Louisville, Nashville, and Cincinnati. This new alignment could be temporary as the USL is looking to make three conferences for the 2019 season.
The league’s announcement will hopefully spur on the creation of the 2018 regular season schedule that is rumored to be released next week. Stay tuned to Cincinnati Soccer Talk for updated information as it is released.