A soccer fan that has watched any major competition, whether its the Champions League or World Cup has heard of the “Group of Death”, when three or four very good to excellent quality teams are selected into the same group, with only two surviving into the knockout stages. With a flux of clubs exiting and entering the USL in 2022, San Antonio FC along with with divisional foes may have just found themselves in the most competitive division in the USL and maybe the most relatively difficult division to navigate into the playoffs in all of sports. The United Soccer League has not officially announced Division Alignments, yet changes to USL Championship’s Wikipedia page seems to indicate some shuffling around of clubs.
Teams leaving the USL Championship
2022 will have some teams leaving permanently as they move to MLS Next Pro, one moving down to USL League One and others going into hiatus. Teams moving to MLS Next Pro in 2022 are Real Monarchs, Sporting KC II and Tacoma Defiance. They will be joining other MLS affiliated clubs that left USL prior to the 2021 season. Charlotte Independence moved down to USL League One, a move possibly to avoid MLS expansion team Charlotte FC. Austin Bold was sold and is moving to another city in Texas, won’t play in 2022. Oklahoma City Energy will be hiatus in 2022 as renovations to their stadium are being made. There will be four MLS owned teams remaining in the USL for 2022, Red Bulls II, Loudon United, Atlanta United II and LA Galaxy II. These will teams, however, will make the move to MLS Next Pro in 2023.
Teams Joining the USL in 2022
Monterey Bay FC are coming back after being on hiatus and are the continuation of Fresno FC. Detroit City has been successful in NISA and are coming off a championship season. The club is known for having an extremely loyal and passionate fanbase, featured in Copa 90 a few years ago.
Changes to the Mountain Division
San Antonio FC finished second behind El Paso Locomotive in 2021 and reached the USL Western Conference Final. While familiar divisional rivals El Paso, Rio Grande Valley and Colorado Springs remain; Austin Bold and Real Monarchs will not return. Austin Bold was sold to a Dallas based group which included Neil Leibman who is President and COO of the Texas Rangers and Donnie Nelson who was President and Chief of Basketball Operations for the Dallas Mavericks and co-owns the Texas Legends of the G-League (NBA’s minor league). The Bold or whatever they will become will not play in 2022 as they look for a new home in Texas, presumably Fort Worth or Arlington. The Real Monarchs being a MLS affiliate of Real Salt Lake will move into the MLS Next Pro ( MLS new reserve league).
With the absence of the Austin Bold and Real Monarchs, Phoenix Rising will join USL Mountain Division in 2022 to bring the division teams to six.
Division of Death
The Mountain Division had five of its six clubs make it to the 2021 USL playoffs, the lone outcast was New Mexico United who finished just one point out of a playoff spot behind Rio Grande Valley and were five points better the Oakland Roots who clinched the fourth spot in the Pacific Division. No team is a push over in 2022. Phoenix Rising were Western Conference Champions in 2018 and 2020 and finished with the best record in the Western Conference in 2021. Phoenix also signed Marcus Epps, who played for SAFC in 2021. El Paso Locomotive were Mountain Division Champions in 2021, and made it to the Conference Final in 2019 and 2020. El Paso re-signed Luis Solignac, a dangerous goal scorer who was on SAFC in 2020. Colorado Springs made the playoffs and had top League Goal Scorer Haji Barry, who tied the league record in 2021, Rio Grande Valley upset the Phoenix Rising in the 2021 playoffs and were top of the Division during much of the first half of the season before El Paso made its run. San Antonio FC made it to the Western Conference Final for the first time in club history last season.
This will be a challenging offseason for San Antonio FC, they will be rebuilding once again. Eight players came in on loan during the 2021 season. It remains to be seen who SAFC will sign and re-sign. With quality teams in the their division, to win it all in 2022, SAFC need to win the offseason with quality signings and bring back a strong core group as well.
Next up in Offseason Report 2: Who will SAFC likely re-sign?