Beginning on March 9, the United Soccer League Championship season will welcome a new team into the mix. On CBS Sports Golazo Network, which serves as the U.S. League’s home during the entire season, you may watch a double header.

Despite the fact that Rhode Island FC will be joining the league when it begins, there are a lot of fresh faces in the league, from coaches to players. While the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup has changed, meaning that only a few Major League Soccer and Major League Soccer Next Pro clubs will be participating, it also means that it is now more likely for a United Soccer League team to win the tournament and earn a spot in the Concacaf Champions Cup. This is something that hasn’t happened since the Rochester Rhinos in 1999. All eyes will be on Phoenix Rising to see if they can become the first team to win the tournament more than once.

The fact that not every team will be participating in the 2024 Open Cup is a source of disappointment; however, there are some positive aspects that can be derived from this situation. One of these positive aspects is that the financial adjustments made for hosting teams will be beneficial for all of the participants. In light of the fact that USL is continuing to develop and become more significant players in the international market, it offers something to aspire for. As the path to Europe no longer exclusively runs through the top flight of American soccer, even the players who are coming into the United States Soccer League are changing. They are now able to recruit players from college, MLS academies, and even from other countries.

Newcomers to the neighborhood

Khano Smith has been hired to serve as both the head coach and the general manager of Rhode Island, and the team has also recruited Albert Dikwa, who won the Golden Boot in 2023. Rhode Island is making a remarkable entrance into the league. In spite of the fact that it is difficult to estimate how long it will take for a new club to become successful right away, Rhode Island is doing a lot of things right before the start of their first season. There is a great deal of experience in American soccer that is brought to the table by the co-founder Michael Parkhurst, and the conditions are favorable for Rhode Island to qualify for the playoffs right from the start. In spite of the fact that it is impossible to ask for much more from a club in its first season, the goal of the team is far higher than simply making the playoffs.
All over the place, new coaches
At the beginning of the season, there are nine new coaches across the league, including a well-known hire, as well as two teams that are ambitious and will also have new individuals patrolling the sidelines. The list includes teams such as Hartford Athletic, Detroit City FC, Colorado Springs, Indy Eleven, Las Vegas Lights, Phoneix Rising, Rhode Island FC, Tampa Bay Rowdies, and FC Tulsa, all of which have new managers in control of their respective teams. After serving as an assistant for Phoenix for a few years, Danny Stone will now take over as the club’s head coach. He will be tasked with filling the void left by Juan Guerra, who left to become an assistant with the Houston Dynamo in the Major League Soccer (MLS) — more on this transition will be forthcoming — but the fact that Stone is familiar with the setup for a team that has been successful in the playoffs is the reason why expectations are still quite high for Phoenix.

This Dynamo opening is happening as a result of Brenden Burke’s return to the United Soccer League as the coach of Hartford Athletic. Ben Olsen and Burke had a wonderful working relationship that contributed to Houston’s victory in the United States Open Cup. Now, Burke will have the opportunity to reimagine Hartford’s soccer squad from the ground up. The team has undergone a significant amount of change throughout the offseason, which has led to great expectations. However, there is a solid reason for these expectations, as Burke is a highly renowned coach.

It seems likely that the next most exciting managerial transition will be in Tampa Bay, as Robbie Neilson will be taking over for Neill Collins, who is currently in charge at Barnsley after spending five years in Tampa and with expectations that are still exceedingly high. As a team that has always been anticipated to be among the best in the Eastern Conference, it will be fascinating to observe whether Neilson is able to live up to the same expectations as Stone in Phoenix. If any of these two teams fails to reach their expectations, the league might become highly competitive from the top to the bottom.

Infrastructure is getting better.

Even though the undefined objective of having all teams play in stadiums designed specifically for soccer by the year 2026 will not be achieved, this does not indicate that the United Soccer League is not making progress in terms of its infrastructure. The cities of Indianapolis, New Mexico, Oakland, and Rhode Island are all in the process of constructing or are in the process of planning to construct stadiums that are specifically designed for soccer. In addition, there are a growing number of teams that are constructing training and youth facilities. In spite of the fact that teams such as the Las Vegas Lights still require a strategy to relocate from a baseball stadium, this is not a problem that is unique to the United Soccer League (USL). In fact, New York City FC has officially revealed its plans for a stadium that is specifically designed for soccer and is planned to open in 2027.

At this moment in time, the league is experiencing a period of excitement, and as more players enter the league with aspirations, the facilities need to be able to accommodate them. The establishment of a comprehensive setting in which athletes are able to realize their full potential is of utmost importance. The new constructions and enhancements are not restricted to the United States League Championship alone; rather, the United States League One is also expanding its facilities.

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