Everything you need to know about USL soccer

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Jason Ence

November 1st, 2021

TwinSpires Sports will be the presenting partner for the 2021 USL Championship Playoffs, set to kick off Friday.

Below we tell you everything you need to know about the USL Championship, featuring teams in the second tier of American soccer, and give you a brief rundown ahead of the weekend’s matches!

When was the USL founded?

The United Soccer League was founded in 1986 and has undergone numerous alignment changes over the years.

Originally founded as a governing body for indoor soccer, it expanded in 2010, before it partnered with MLS in 2013 to include MSL “Two” teams in USL Pro.

In 2018, the league rebranded USL Pro to USL Championship and added new leagues to the pyramid structure, while it readjusted where many teams fell in the U.S. soccer pyramid.

What is the level of competition in the USL Championship?

The USL Championship is in the second tier of competition in the American soccer structure and is a fully professional league.

USL League One, whose playoffs are also presented this year by TwinSpires Sports, is a professional league at the third tier, while the semi-pro development league, USL League Two, is at the fourth tier.

How many teams play in the USL Championship?

Currently, 31 teams play in the USL Championship.

The structure includes two conferences, each of which contains two divisions.

The Eastern Conference is comprised of the Atlantic and Central divisions, while the Mountain and Pacific divisions make up the Western Conference.

Three of the divisions have eight teams, while the Mountain Division is the exception, with seven teams.

In 2022, two new teams will join the league, and many of the MLS “Two” teams will move to the new MLS development league.

How long is the USL season?

The 2021 USL Championship season was comprised of 32 regular-season matches over a 27-week span, starting in late April and ending this past weekend.

The playoffs begin Friday, November 5, with 16 teams competing over four rounds. The final is scheduled for November 28.

Can you wager on the USL?

Of course you can!

TwinSpires will also present a free-to-play “pick-em” game through the USL mobile app, where participants can win cash prizes for the most accurate playoff predictions.

Who are the favorites to win the USL title this year?

Tampa Bay was the class of the USL Championship this season and ran away with the tough Atlantic Division, as it recorded 71 points on the season — 12 more than second-place Charlotte.

Rowdies keeper Evan Louro’s 14 clean sheets were one short of the single-season league record. He is the only keeper with multiple penalty saves in 2021.

Offensively, Sebastian Guenzatti’s 21 goals were the second most in the league.

Tampa holds home field throughout the playoffs.

Phoenix is favored to come out of the Western Conference, after it won the Pacific Division by 15 points.

The team also features a dominant keeper in Andre Rawls, who was far and away the best at stopping shots from inside the box this season.

Rising FC was unbeaten at home in 2021 and will hold home field, at least until the final.

Santi Moar leads the attack, with 16 goals this season, tying him for seventh most in the league.

Finally, Louisville City is always a threat.

Winners of both the 2017 and 2018 USL Cup, the "boys in purple" have reached at least the Eastern Conference Final in their first six seasons.

Cameron Lancaster has scored the third most goals in the league, with 20 this season, and his 71 career goals are fourth most in league history.

Head coach Danny Cruz is in his first season and will be managing in the playoffs for the first time. However, the core of the roster is loaded with playoff experience, and the team will have home field for at least the first two rounds.

Who are some players to keep an eye on?

Hadji Barry won the USL Championship golden boot with 25 goals this season, tying the league’s single-season record, and helped lead the Colorado Springs Switchbacks to the playoffs for the first time in five years.

He came into the season with 38 goals in 89 career appearances but had a stellar campaign and converted more than half of his shots on target in 2021.

While Moar gets many of the headlines for Phoenix, midfielder Aodhan Quinn is the man who pulls the strings for Rising.

Quinn has been one of the best midfielders in the league over the past few seasons, and his 11 assists this year are tied for second most in the league.

He also is second best in the USL Championship with 84 chances created, and his six goals are the third most for the team.

Louisville City has one of the most exciting players in the league, in left back Jonathan Gomez, a promising 18-year old who will be joining Real Sociedad in Spain’s La Liga in January.

Gomez ranks fourth in the league with 164 crosses, including corner kicks, and 33rd in the league with 41 chances created.

His electric pace and exciting dribbling ability make him a threat anytime he touches the ball.

He has recorded two goals and eight assists in 26 matches.

How can I watch the USL Championship playoffs?

Every match of the USL Championships will be available live on the ESPN family of networks.

The conference quarterfinals, semifinals, and final will all be available live on ESPN+ with a paid ESPN+ subscription.

The final, on November 28, will air on ESPN and ESPN Deportes.