That USL Pro Rebrand, in Excessive Depth

By Benjamin Massey

February 10th, 2015 · No comments

United Soccer Leagues

United Soccer Leagues

Earlier today the United Soccer Leagues announced a rebrand. A new league logo, with versions for each team straight out of the Major League Soccer Guide to Hipster Trendiness. (Still miles better than its MLS equivalent.)

USL Pro has dropped the “Pro”, which a cynic would say reflects the part-timer MLS reserve players and an optimist would say is rationalization: with USL operating one professional league “United Soccer League” makes sense as a name even if it’s hokum as a concept. In my books it’s an improvement over USL Pro, but anyway there’s no need to get too attached.

Welcome to a new dawn in North American soccer“, USL said. For once that is more than purple prose, because USL rebrands pretty much every morning.

Let’s take the Rochester Rhinos, a club of remarkable pedigree, established 1996. The Rhinos have never deliberately moved leagues: while peers and rivals bounce up to MLS or down to the semi-pro levels, Rochester’s been happy with their position*. So one would expect their history to show a reasonable level of stability.

Seasons League
1996 A-League team formed
1997–1998 USISL A-League A-League merged with USISL
1999–2004 USL A-League USISL rebranded to USL
2005–2009 USL First Division USL rebranded its leagues to the First and Second Divisions
2010 USSF D2 Pro League USL/NASL split; temporary league
2011–2014 USL Pro USL merged and rebranded First and Second Divisions
2015– USL USL rebranded USL Pro

The Rhinos have played in seven different leagues, five of which were run by the USL or its predecessor the USISL. These guys change names more often than MLS changes reserve leagues.

According to reports USL is also trying to regain second division status in the United States, which they held from 1997 to 2009. NASL kingpins Traffic Sports is one of the Canadian Soccer Association’s better friends. and the NASL is our country’s best hope for professional men’s soccer, so maybe we should cheer for USL to fail. However, the distinction between American second and third divisions is meaningless. There is no promotion/relegation and, as long as MLS refuses to spend on roster depth and half of USL’s players are MLS reservists, USL will never equal the NASL on the field. The pitch to potential owners won’t change: USL can offer tightness with MLS, NASL can offer independence, stability, and the prospect of an MLS expansion anyway. I find I want USL to succeed in its bid because the Americans having two second divisions in 2015 would be hilarious.

*Technically the Rhinos self-relegated from the American second division to the third in 2011, when they joined USL Pro. But, as I could discuss at length, the American soccer pyramid is a fiction. The USL/NASL split was a special circumstance and Rochester remained in the descendant of the USL First Division; it would be more accurate to say standards for a second division increased and Rochester stayed at the same level.

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