While much surrounding the rapidly expanding USL Pro remains a mystery for the time being, we now at least know what format the competition will take.
For the 2015 season, USL Pro will be split into two conferences that, with rare exceptions, will not play each other during the regular season.
Portland Timbers 2, the Portland Timbers' recently formed reserve side, will play in the league's Western Conference, matching up against eleven other sides including Seattle Sounders 2 and Sacramento Republic FC. T2 will have a home and away series against every in-conference opponent and will have six additional matches based on geographic and historical rivalries, including potential cross-conference play. This schedule leaves the league with a 28 game season for each team.
The obvious picks for T2's rivalry matches include S2 and Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, but could also see matches against the Montreal Impact's new side, Montreal FC, or the Rochester Rhinos.
To date T2 has only signed one player, former Timbers homegrown signing Steven Evans, but players like Brian Gallego and Futty Danso have been linked to the USL Pro side as well.
The USL press release:
Expanded & Realigned USL PRO Unveils 2015 Competition Format
24 clubs split into two conferences with 28-game regular season schedule
TAMPA, Fla. – USL PRO unveiled its 2015 competition format today, featuring a two-conference alignment to further promote regional rivalries following the league’s unprecedented off-season growth. USL PRO has expanded to 24 teams for its highly-anticipated 2015 season with the establishment of professional soccer in new markets along with the addition of seven MLS owned and operated clubs.
The full 2015 USL PRO schedule will be announced later this month.
USL PRO will be split into 12-team Eastern and Western Conferences in 2015, with teams facing each of their conference opponents at least twice during the 28-game regular season schedule. The additional six games (beyond the standard home and away against the other 11 intra-conference foes) will be matchups against geographic rivals resulting in several cross-conference contests.
"Transitioning to a conference-based structure is consistent with our long-term growth strategy and enabled by the rapid expansion of the league," USL PRO Executive Vice President Jake Edwards said. "This new format will promote regional rivalries, allowing fans greater opportunity to support their clubs home and away as the league continues to bring its brand of professional soccer to enthusiastic markets throughout the U.S. and Canada.
"With 12 teams qualifying for the playoffs in 2015, more USL PRO fans will have the opportunity to experience the special atmosphere that is created by the league’s knockout tournament post-season format."
2015 USL PRO Alignment
Harrisburg City Islanders
Louisville City FC
Saint Louis FC
Toronto FC II
Wilmington Hammerheads FC
Arizona United SC
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
LA Galaxy II
OKC Energy FC
Orange County Blues FC
Portland Timbers 2
Real Monarchs SLC
Sacramento Republic FC
Seattle Sounders FC 2
Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2
The 2015 season will also bring changes to USL PRO’s single-elimination playoff format with the top six finishers in each conference moving on to the four-week postseason. Teams will be seeded No. 1 through No. 6 in each conference, with the top two seeds receiving first-round byes and the No. 3 seed hosting the No. 6 seed and the No. 4 seed hosting the No. 5 seed.
The winner of the No. 3 vs. No. 6 game will then travel to face the No. 2 seed, and the winner of the No. 4 vs. No. 5 game will travel to face the No. 1 seed. The winners will meet in the Eastern & Western Conference Championship games with the remaining two teams advancing to square off in the 2015 USL PRO Championship, hosted by the higher seeded club.
There are a total of six awards to be earned in the 2015 USL PRO season. In addition to the highest honor of 2015 USL PRO Champions - awarded to the winner of the league’s post-season tournament - USL PRO will officially honor the Eastern Conference & Western Conference champions for both the regular season and the playoffs, as well as the overall USL PRO Regular Season Champion - the team earning the most regular season points.
USL PRO is the strongest U.S. men’s professional soccer league on and off the field below and in support of Major League Soccer (MLS). Focused on league stability and franchise performance longevity, USL PRO featured 14 teams in 2014, including expansion teams in Los Angeles, Oklahoma City and Sacramento. Teams have been added for 2015 in Austin, Charlotte, Colorado Springs, Louisville, Montreal, New York, Portland, Salt Lake City, Seattle, St. Louis, Toronto, Tulsa, and Vancouver. Through aggressive and deliberate growth in adding teams fully capable of meeting USL and US Soccer standards, USL PRO is building a robust, national professional soccer league in a format that promotes the benefits of regional league play. In 2013 USL PRO began a groundbreaking, multi-year partnership with MLS that features individual team affiliations, inter-league play, and the opportunity for MLS clubs to field a second team in USL PRO. In addition to league play, USL PRO teams compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup as well as various domestic and international exhibitions. USL PRO is the longest-standing pro league affiliate member of US Soccer.