This article is the second in a series exploring the United Soccer Leagues. This series will culminate in an in-depth look at the Dayton Dutch Lions of the Premier Development League.
The United Soccer Leagues First Division, more commonly referred to as USL-1, is the highest level of men’s professional soccer in the United Soccer Leagues
. The USL-1 is a United States Soccer Federation, USSF, Division 2 league comprised of teams from the United States and Puerto Rico. The league features players from over 35 countries and, in addition to league play, competes in competitions including the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the CONCACAF Champions League and the Caribbean Championship.
The history of the USL-1 begins in 1985 after the demise of the North American Soccer League. As result of a few soccer loyalists determined to create a professional soccer league in the United States, the Western Soccer Alliance, WSA, was born. The WSA was made up of teams from San Jose, Seattle, Victoria and Portland. The WSA saw growth from four to seven teams from ’85 to ’86 adding teams in LA, San Diego and Edmonton. In 1987 the American Soccer League, ASL, was formed with teams in the Eastern US from New Jersey, Boston, Maryland and Washington. The ASL commenced play in April of 1988 and quickly saw growth expanding to ten teams and capturing a quarter-million fans. In 1989, the WSA and ASL announced plans to merge the two leagues and, by 1990, the American Professional Soccer League was born. In 1994, the league changed its name to the A-League in order to more accurately reflect its Division-II status. In 2005, the A-league became the USL First Division.
From 2005 – 2009, the First Division saw expansion and contraction. Comprised of 12 teams, the league saw teams such as the Richmond Kickers drop down to USL-2 and other teams like the Seattle Sounders move to Major League Soccer. In 2009, Nike agreed to sell their stake in the USL to Atlanta-based Nu-Rock Soccer Holdings instead of the USL Team Owners Association. What followed this transaction would throw the league into a state of flux and see the re-birth of the North American Soccer League, NASL.
Team owners expressing their concern with the state of the league, ownership structure and league leadership, threatened to break away from the USL and start their own league. In November 2009, these threats became reality when several USL-1 clubs left to form a new North American Soccer League. This move saw the USL-1 league membership drop to just three clubs. In February 2010, the United States Soccer Federation stepped in to work with the two leagues and announced it will oversee a USSF Division-II league in which all USL-1 and NASL teams will compete.
Part three of this series will briefly explore the North American Soccer League and the teams that will be competing against the USL-1 teams in the USSF Division II league.