On Wednesday, Hartford Sports Group announced that the city will be getting a professional soccer team — Hartford Athletic of the USL.
The team will play in the renovated Dillon Stadium come April 2019.
Some questions have yet to be answered (who is coaching the team, what will the roster look like, etc.) but here’s what we know so far:
Q: So, what is the USL?
A: The USL, or United Soccer League, is a professional men’s soccer league founded in 2011. It’s the fastest growing sports league in the country, and has moved from 10 to 33 teams since it’s origin.
It’s sanctioned as a Division II professional league by the United States Soccer Federation. For reference, Major League Soccer is sanctioned as Division I.
Hartford joins seven other locations granted expansion teams for 2019: Oakland East Bay, Austin, Birmingham, Memphis, Chicago, Albuquerque and El Paso.
The league is broken up into two conferences, the Eastern Conference and Western Conference.
Q: When do teams play?
A: Teams play a 30-game regular season fixture, and then the top six teams in each conference advance to the playoffs. The playoffs are formatted as single-elimination, first round, quarterfinal and semifinal games. The winner of the Eastern Conference faces the winner of the Western Conference for the championship.
The season starts in March every year (the 2019 season starts March 15). The regular season runs through October, and the playoffs go into November. Louisville City FC is the reigning champion.
Q: So there’s no connection to the MLS?
A: Actually, there is. Currently, 20 USL teams have MLS direct affiliates. The USL teams essentially function as minor league teams to the MLS teams.
Hartford Athletic has yet to be paired with an MLS team, although the New England Revolution are among the few MLS teams without an USL affiliate.
Additionally, USL teams compete for the U.S. Open Cup, a championship played between MLS teams, USL teams as well as several other domestic leagues. The championship dates to 1913.
Since the MLS’s birth in 1996, the country’s top tier league has won the cup all but one year. The Richmond Kicker, then of the A-League, now of the USL, won in 1995.
Q: Who plays in the league?
A: The short answer: professional soccer players.
The long answer is it’s a mix of national and international players. For example, the reigning USL MVP is Dane Kelly, of the Jamaican National Team. He now plays for D.C. United in the MLS.
Looking at last year’s First Team All-League team, six players played Division I collegiate soccer, while six had MLS experience or are now playing in the MLS. Two players had experience on the U.S. National U-20 team, while one player (Marcel Shafer) played for the German National team.
That’s a roundabout way of saying that the players you’ll see on the pitch likely have some high level college, pro or international experience.
There’s currently one UConn alum in the USL. Goalkeeper Scott Levene (’17) plays for the New York Red Bulls II.
Q: Who paid for this team and the renovation?
A: It was a combination of state funds and private funds. The state put up a $10 million bond toward the renovation of Dillon Stadium.
Hartford Sports Group is putting up $7 million to 10 million toward the renovation, and the startup of the team.
Q: I’m sold. Can I get tickets now?
A: You can put a deposit for season tickets in now for $25 www.hartfordathletic.com/tickets. According to Bruce Mandell, the CEO of Hartford Sports Group, 1,000 fans already have.
Q: What if I want to watch it on TV?
A: The USL partnered with ESPN+ to stream games through their network. Additionally, ESPN3 and ESPNU air the ‘USL Game of the Week.’
Many USL teams have their games broadcast through their local television networks, too.