The USL is a developmental league underneath MLS in the professional league hierarchy. But in Chicago, which already has the Chicago Fire, a new USL team might end up the more glamorous franchise.
That’s thanks to a new deal between real estate development company Sterling Bay and Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, which will seek to move a new USL franchise into a soon-to-be-built stadium on Chicago’s north side. That stadium idea was originally pitched as part of an Amazon HQ2 bid, and could conceivably still be part of the new Amazon campus, if Chicago is selected, although so much of that remains up in the air that it’s difficult to speculate.
Here’s what we do know, thanks to Ryan Ori of the Chicago Tribune:
The baseball team owner and Chicago developer Sterling Bay said they are forming a joint venture to bring a United Soccer League expansion team to the planned Lincoln Yards commercial real estate development along the Chicago River.
Sterling Bay will develop and own the stadium, and will keep an ownership stake in the USL franchise it bought last year. Ricketts will be the team’s majority owner.
The new franchise is targeting a 2021 debut, and the stadium itself is obviously scheduled for construction before then, maybe complete with a retractable roof:
Sterling Bay also has said it wants to bring other sporting events, such as international soccer and college football games, and entertainment to the venue surrounded by densely populated neighborhoods.
The stadium and training facility will be available to youth and professional athletes, and also will have community and cultural events, according to the news release.
The stadium is planned along the west side of the river.
When the original Amazon-branded stadium idea was floated, we wrote about how it might make sense for the Fire to move closer to downtown:
The concert side of that equation might be of more immediate interest in Chicago, although in the Midwest, outdoor concert season is at most about 8 months out of the year. Still, the Chicago Fire currently play in Bridgeview, a suburb southwest of Chicago. This site would be much closer to downtown, and the Fire’s current home, Toyota Park, doesn’t have a naming rights sponsor at the moment. (It’s still called Toyota Park, which means they’re getting free advertising.) A move might make sense, if it comes about.
Obviously that’s now unlikely, meaning Chicago’s USL team will have a 20,000 seat stadium in a prime city location while Chicago’s MLS team (which dates back to 1998, as one of the league’s first expansion franchises) will play in a suburb.
Moreover, it’s not impossible that at some point the USL franchise becomes an MLS franchise, itself; obviously MLS has multiple teams in big markets already, with two teams in both Los Angeles and New York, and USL franchises like FC Cincinnati are already in the running to make the transition as MLS continues its expansion. And it’s also fair to wonder if this helps Chicago’s Amazon bid.