The United Soccer Leagues have announced Wednesday the details for the 2008 USL First Division season as determined at the 2007 Annual General Meeting at the Hyatt Regency Tampa in Florida.
Among the specifics unveiled were the league alignment, schedule format and playoff structure for the North American professional league.
With the return of Seattle Sounders to defend their USL First Division championship and the absence of California Victory, who may return in 2009 under new ownership, 11 teams will be vying for the 2008 USL-1 championship and Commissioner’s Cup.
“The USL First Division continues to evolve into a viable alternative league model for professional soccer in North America, featuring the strength of the USL developmental pyramid with an increasing focus on international relationships,” said USL Executive Vice President and COO Tim Holt. “All 11 returning USL-1 franchises enter 2008 with a realistic goal of competing for trophies and are collectively stronger as businesses than ever before. Driven by the opening of the purpose-built Stade Saputo in Montreal this upcoming spring and buoyed by ambitious new ownership groups in Portland and Minnesota, this season represents an exciting new chapter in the league’s growth.”
The 2008 USL-1 regular season will commence no earlier than April 11th and the final match date will be September 21st, making the season two weeks longer than in 2007.
The 11 teams will be making USL-1 history in 2008 when they play a 30-game schedule for the first time in league history after playing 28-game schedules in 10 of the last 11 seasons. Each club will play each opponent three times during the regular season. The top seven teams will advance to the playoff tournament, with the Commissioner’s Cup winner (regular season champion) receiving a bye into the semifinals. The first round will involve the number two to number seven seeds competing in two-leg aggregate score series, with the three winners advancing to semifinals with the number one seed pitted against the lowest remaining seed.
“Although disappointed the Victory will not be a part of our 2008 competition, we continue to make progress towards bringing USL-1 soccer back to San Francisco with a new ownership group conceivably to be introduced prior to even the commencement of the 2008 season,” Holt added. “However, as a reflection of our confidence in and respect for the long-term health of the league, the importance of providing adequate preparation time to ensure the success of any new ownership group was prioritized above all else. Considering we are also in advanced stage dialogue with prospective franchise ownership groups in several major markets within the US states of California, Texas, and Florida, the 2009 season is shaping up to be a key expansion year for USL-1.”
Further details on the 2008 USL-1 playoff and championship will be released in conjunction with the league schedule projected for January 2008.