The United Soccer Leagues (USL), a Division 2 professional league in the US Soccer system, begins its 2017 regular season this week. The regular season will run from Saturday, March 25th to Sunday, October 15…a span of 30 weeks and 480 matches. Though the majority of the matches will be played within the respective Eastern and Western Conferences, select inter-conference games will also be played over the course of the season. Each team will play a 32 game schedule, split evenly home and away. The league added two games to the regular season from last year and will be starting the season earlier as a result.
USL Regular Season in Texas:
San Antonio FC (SAFC) and Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (RGVFC), the two Texas teams playing in USL, begin the 2017 regular season with a 6:00 p.m. Derby match this Sunday night at the new H-E-B Park Stadium in Edinburg. San Antonio will open its home schedule six days later at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 1 at Toyota Field against LA Galaxy II.
SAFC is an independent USL franchise who recently announced an affiliation with New York FC of Major League Soccer (MLS). Rio Grande Valley FC has a hybrid affiliation with Houston Dynamo, who provide the Toro’s coaching staff and player roster. As an aside, FC Dallas does not operate a USL team. Instead they have partnered with Oklahoma City Energy (OKC) and loan out a handful of players from their roster to OKC each year.
Both SAFC and RGVFC will play the other 14 Western Conference teams at least once home and away (28 games). The remaining 4 games on the schedule are either played against other Western Conference opponents or against teams from the East. SAFC will play home games against RGVFC and Tampa Bay Rowdies. SAFC’s extra away matches will be against Swope Park Rangers and Oklahoma City Energy. RGVFC will play their extra home matches against Swope Park and Los Angeles Galaxy II. Their extra away games are against SAFC and Sacramento Republic.
Longest Home Stretch: SAFC (3 games twice-April 1 to 15th and May 6 to 20th); RGVFC (5 games-April 12 to May 20th)
Longest Road Stretch: SAFC (4 games-September 2 to 17th); RGVFC (3 games twice-June 21 to July 8 and July 29 to August 6)
Weeknight home games: SAFC (3 games-2 Friday and 1 Wednesday); RGVFC (4 Wednesday)
Most challenging travel schedule: SAFC (3 straight Pacific Northwest matches in six days beginning Saturday, April 22 in Vancouver and ending Friday, April 28 in Portland); RGVFC (the same 3 game Pacific Northwest stretch (except over 8 days) beginning Saturday, July 29th in Portland and ending on Sunday, August 6th in Seattle).
Additional Schedule Notes:
In addition to the opening game in the Valley this Sunday, both of the other Derby games between SAFC and RGVFC will be played at Toyota Field on September 23 and October 17th (also the final game of the regular season for both teams).
San Antonio will play its first ever inter-conference match when they face Tampa Bay Rowdies at Toyota Field on October 7th. The Rowdies, a new USL franchise, have a rivalry with San Antonio soccer teams, dating back to when they and the San Antonio Scorpions played in the North American Soccer League (NASL).
Between June 21st and August 6th, the Toros will play 7 of 9 games on the road, including three separate trips to the West Coast and 4 mid-week games. The schedule compression is partially a result of the three 10+ day breaks in RGVFC’s schedule early in the season.
The USL playoffs will begin on the weekend after the conclusion of the regular season.
104th Edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup:
This annual competition named after Lamar Hunt, FC Dallas’s founder, is open to both professional and amateur soccer clubs in the United States. FC Dallas is in fact the defending Cup holder after defeating New England 4-2 in the final last September. The 2017 tournament will begin on May 10th with 28 games between 56 Open Division (amateur) teams. The Second Round, including the winners of the 28 First Round games and 24 USL and NASL participants, will take place beginning on May 17th. The winners of these 26 games will then advance to the Third Round which will begin on May 31st. All U.S.-based MLS teams enter the competition in the Fourth Round starting on June 14th.
San Antonio FC is the only USL side who will participate in this competition this year. Though I believe they could technically participate in the Open Cup if they chose, RGVFC has an affiliation with the Houston Dynamo who are also in the tournament. Last year the Dynamo used RGVFC players in this competition and are likely to do this again in 2017. SAFC begins its participation in the 2017 US Open Cup in Round 2. Because the tournament is essentially a regional competition in the early stages, SAFC could face one of the two amateur Texas teams participating in this tournament in their opener, assuming at least one of these teams advances out of the First Round: NTX Rayados from Dallas and Dutch Lions FC from The Woodlands. If SAFC wins their Second Round game, they would likely play another USL team in the Third Round, possibly one of the Oklahoma based squads. If they were to advance to Round 4, they would likely be paired against either Houston Dynamo or FC Dallas.