For a fourth year we are back at covering an expansion/departure tracker. And as you folks know tracking these items are much easier in the four American professional leagues: the MLS, USLC, USL1, and NWSL. Once you get down the pyramid to NPSL, USL2, UWS, and WPSL it becomes hard to track expansion but even harder to track teams leaving. That is where we come in to try and help you out!
For 2021 we have the same leagues as the 2020 tracker; those being mentioned above, but if expansion comes to the Canadian Premier League we will mention it here also. While this does make it easier as we are not adding a new league, the structure of NISA makes it hard by itself.
NISA (National Independent Soccer Association) is a USSF Division 3 sanctioned league, therefore beholden to the USSF Pro League Standards. It is also the only league to not be affiliated with the MLS/USL contingent. This has made the league attractive to amateur teams from the NPSL and UPSL to jump up (provided they meet the standards required) but poses some issues of it’s own. One of those being the season format itself. Unlike most leagues in the US which run a spring to fall schedule, NISA runs a split season similar to the NASL. However it is different as it is run Fall to Spring with a (potentially long) winter break in between.
I say potentially as NISA did not have a 2020 Spring season so we don’t know exactly how it will work. But needless to say there will be a winter break. The issue this brings is that teams can join for either part of the season. This has provided some odd things happening as Stumptown Athletic (Charlotte, NC) and San Diego 1904 both opted out of the 2020 Fall season but are expected to rejoin for the 2021 Spring portion of the 2020-21 season. Add in to this as New Amsterdam FC joined for the Fall of 2020 but New Jersey Teamsters will join in the Spring of 2021.
Adding teams mid-season isn’t just something NISA is doing and no one else has. In fact the second version of the North American Soccer League did just that. The New York Cosmos were added for the fall portion of the 2013 season. Puerto Rico FC also did the same, joining in the fall of 2016. That same year in 2016 Rayo OKC and Miami FC joined during the Spring portion of the season.
Major League Soccer (+1)
- Austin FC (Austin, TX) - 1/15/19
USL Championship (+1)
- Oakland Roots SC (Oakland, CA) - 9/15/2020
National Independent Soccer Association (+2)
USL League Two (+7)
- Morris Elite SC (Madison, NJ) - 6/26/2020
- Iowa Raptors FC (Cedar Rapids, IA) - 7/8/2020
- Real Central New Jersey (Ewing Township, NJ) - 7/9/2020
- Little Rock Rangers (Little Rock, AR) - 9/10/2020
- Project 51O (Oakland, CA) - 9/17/2020
- Round Rock SC (Round Rock, TX) - 10/22/2020
- Fort Wayne FC (Fort Wayne, IN) - 10/28/2020
National Premier Soccer League (+5)
- Southern States SC (Oak Grove, MS) - 6/24/2020
- Panathinaikos Chicago (Chicago, IL) - 6/30/2020
- Georgia Storm SA (Carrollton, GA) - 9/17/2020
- Florida Roots FC (Panama City, FL) - 10/7/2020
- Irving FC (Irving, TX) - 10/29/2020
National Women’s Soccer League (+1)
- Racing Louisville FC (Louisville, KY) - 10/22/19
United Women’s Soccer (+5)
- Kongo SC (Salt Lake City, UT) - 6/29/2020
- Gretna Elite Academy (Gretna, NE) - 10/8/2020
- KC Courage (Kansas City, MO) - 10/8/2020
- St. Louis Scott Gallagher (Fenton, MO) - 10/8/2020
- Springfield Demize (Springfield, MO) - 10/8/2020
USL Championship (-4)
- St. Louis FC (Fenton, MO) - 8/25/2020: Folding to make room for St. Louis City (MLS ‘23)
- Philadelphia Union II (Philadelphia, PA) - 10/16/2020: is expected to join reformed MLS Reserve/U23 League in 2022
- Portland Timbers (Hillsboro, OR) - 10/16/2020: is expected to join reformed MLS Reserve/U23 League in 2022
- Reno 1868 FC (Reno, NV) - 11/6/2020
USL Championship (-1)
- Orlando City B (Kissimmee, FL) - 10/16/2020: is expected to join reformed MLS Reserve/U23 League in 2022
National Independent Soccer Association (-1)
- Oakland Roots SC (Oakland, CA) - 9/15/2020: Moving to USL Championship
National Premier Soccer League (-4)
- Little Rock Rangers (Little Rock, AR) - 9/10/2020: Moving to USL League Two
- Project 51O (Oakland, CA) - 9/17/2020: Moving to USL League Two
- Maryland Bobcats (Silver Spring, MD) - 10/13/2020: move from NPSL to NISA, Bobcats II to play in EPSL
- Fort Wayne FC (Fort Wayne, IN) - 10/28/2020: Moving to USL League Two
Women’s Premier Soccer League (-3)
- Gretna Elite Academy (Gretna, NE) - 10/8/2020: Moving to UWS
- KC Courage (Kansas City, MO) - 10/8/2020: Moving to UWS
- SFG Lady Demize (Springfield, MO) - 10/8/2020: Moving to UWS as Springfield Demize
Right now there is not a lot of expansion that has been announced, which while normal for this time of year is still a bit light. Look for things to change around October/November and it to heat up A LOT more in the amateur leagues from December to February. Teams will usually be announced in those leagues on shorter notice as they play a shorter season, require less capital, and start later.
As for the other leagues they seem to be lined up fairly well. Major League Soccer gains one team for 2021 to raise itself to 27 clubs. It will add two for 2022 bringing it to 29 before adding one more in 2023 rounding off at 30. The USL Championship has added Oakland Roots from NISA and Queensboro FC moved it’s start date to 2022 and will lose St. Louis FC. This keeps USLC at 35 clubs pending other moves.
Don’t count expansion out though as there are grumblings out of Buffalo, NY, Pawtucket, RI, Des Moines, IA, Monterey, CA, as well as discussions with Baltimore, Cleveland, and Milwaukee per the league.
Along with those it has been reported that Oakland Roots, who are currently in NISA, will be moving to USL Championship for 2021. Speculation (by me) says this move may also effect the Roots NPSL squad, Project 51O. UPDATE: As of the late morning of September 15th the Oakland Roots did announce their move to USLC and that “Project 51O consists of a few teams in different leagues. Stay tuned.” There are multiple MLS, USLC, and USL1 clubs with a team in USL League Two, however no team currently in either of those three leagues has an NPSL side. So this could also mean a move by Project 51O to USL2 if those numbers tell a story, and on the 17th of September the Roots did officially announce the move of Project 51O to USL League Two.
USL League One currently has no expansion or contractions announced for 2021, but just like with the Championship keep your eyes open. Clubs have been discussed for Lexington, KY, High Point, NC, and Portland, ME. And as with the last time USL had two divisions (USL First Division and USL Second Division) there is always the possibility that League One could become home to some of the teams who want to lessen their financial burdens, such as Richmond Kickers did.
The other third division league, the National Independent Soccer Association, also announced the creation of “NISA Nation”. According to the league NISA Nation is:
“A full-year league providing amateur independent clubs a groundbreaking path to professional status. NISA Nation bridges success on the amateur affiliate level – such as the Gulf Coast Premier League, the Midwest Premier League and the Eastern Premier Soccer League (and more to come) – to a spot on the NISA PRO level. It is expected to activate in 2021.”
This would mean that NISA is planning on launching a third (or fourth depending on where you place the UPSL) national fourth division amateur league. A goal of NISA has always been to have a promotion relegation system in place. The original proposal in fact, was for the NASL, NISA, and a new 4th division league to form a pro/rel pyramid. The two big issues NISA will have completing this structure, even without the NASL, is competition from the USL system and the USSF’s Pro League standards.
Lastly and not least is the National Women’s Soccer League. The NWSL will add Racing Louisville for 2021 bringing the league to 10 clubs before adding the tentatively named Angel City in 2022 to bring the league to 11 clubs. While I would not expect to see another side join until 2022 or 2023 there is always the possibility. Future MLS side Sacramento Republic has also reportedly been awarded an NWSL expansion side.
Above (Men’s) and below (Women’s) are maps of the currently announced expansion teams for 2021.