On Friday night, America’s new fully-professional third tier will kick off. The USL League One was announced in April 2017 and now two years on, it is ready to begin with ten teams, five of which are newly-formed.
The new division will sit below MLS and the USL Championship, although of course there is no promotion or relegation. Six of the clubs competing in the new division however, are affiliated to MLS sides, similar to the way many of the USL Championship sides are.
The first match is on Friday night at 11pm UK time and sees South Georgia Tormenta host Greenville Triumph. The league have announced that every single match in the inaugural season will be broadcast live on YouTube, although most kick off times are not too healthy for UK fans!
Let’s have a closer look at the teams involved, especially those with English players already signed up.
Chattanooga Red Wolves
Stadium capacity: 5,000
English players: 1
Chattanooga based in Tennessee recruited goalkeeper Greg Hartley all the way back in October last year, making him the club’s first signing. The 29-year-old ‘keeper grew up in the Manchester City academy and was part of the team who won the side who won the FA Youth Cup in 2008, alongside the likes of Danny Sturridge and Kieran Trippier.
After leaving City, he headed to the States to study at the Georgia Gwinett College and also played for the old Chattanooga team who competed in the fourth-tier NPSL league, where he won the Golden Glove award for the best goalkeeper three years in a row.
He has spent the last two years playing back in England at level eight club Atherton Collieries but is now back at the States and playing professional football.
Stadium capacity: 4,000
English players: 2
Another newly formed team, this time based in South Carolina, Greenville have two Englishmen in their squad of varying experience. Paul Clowes, like Hartley, also grew up in the Manchester City academy before heading to America to study at Clemson University. After impressing there, he was eventually drafted by MLS club DC United and later went on to play in the USL for Charlotte Independence and Orlando City B. The 25-year-old midfielder spent last year recovering from injury whilst playing for English non-league side Egerton, who have had the likes of Victor Anichebe represent them in the past.
Joining Clowes at Greenville is fellow midfielder Cameron Saul but unlike his compatriot, this season will be his first in professional football. The 23-year-old Londoner joins after studying at Young Harris College, Wardorf University and Lenoir-Rhyne University. Back in England he played for Luton Town and later Wingate & Finchley. He also spent time playing for Asheville City in the NPSL whilst at college.
Stadium capacity: 7,527
English players: 2
Based in Michigan, Lansing Ignite are the affiliate side of Chicago Fire and they made a real coup by signing Alex Bruce on loan from USL Championship side San Antonio. The forward from Newcastle made a solid start to his career as a professional footballer last season, scoring three times in 13 matches for San Antonio. Many expected him to continue to blossom with San Antonio this year but instead, Lansing have recruited the 20-year-old who could well be one to watch in the new division this season.
He will be joined by Lewis Jones. The 24-year-old from Liverpool played for the old Lansing United side who competed in the PDL, a league which the best college stars compete in during the summer holidays. He had a spell in English non-league before crossing the Atlantic in 2015 to take up a soccer scholarship. He is also a British Virgin Islands international, having represented them twice in 2016 in their Caribbean Cup qualifiers.
South Georgia Tormenta
Stadium capacity: 4,000
English players: 3
Unlike the other three sides mentioned above, the Tormenta are not a newly formed club. They have spent the past three seasons playing in the PDL but will now be making the step-up to USL League One.
Their first English player is Charlie Dennis. The 23-year-old from Brighton grew up in the Southampton academy before studying at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He was signed to play for Nashville in the USL Championship last year but injury prevented him from making his debut. Although he is a new signing for the Tormenta, he has previously played for the side back in their PDL days.
Dennis is a midfielder just like Marco Micaletto. The 23-year-old of Italian descent, studied at Young Harris College and the University of Akron after crossing over from Reading back in the UK. Confusingly, he has also played for a team called Reading United in the PDL prior to signing for the Tormenta. He has experience of playing against pro sides in the past, having made several appearances against USL sides in the US Open Cup.
Their final Englishman is Michael O’Sullivan. The defender from Romford moved to the States before studying at college as he spent some time in the Orlando City academy growing up. He finished college in 2016 and has previous pro experience playing in the NASL (formerly second-tier league) for Jacksonville Armada. The 24-year-old returned to semi-professional football last year playing for NPSL side Palm Beach United.
The other teams in the league are Forward Madison, North Texas, Orlando City B, Richmond Kickers, Toronto II and Tucson. North Texas could yet have an Englishman of their own with Anthony Bardon trialling at the club currently, he’s a Gibraltar international but is from London.
The league has big plans for the future. Penn and Rochester Rhinos are scheduled to join the league next year and the organisation is targeting 24 teams for the 2021 season.