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How to stream USL Championship matches live in 2020

At 35 teams and growing, it's actually bigger than MLS.

Mar 6, 2020, 8:56 pm

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Phil West

USL Championship starts its 2020 season Friday, with a staggering 35 teams on board and two more on the way.

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The name itself is a little confusing, unless you’re a die-hard soccer fan who knows where the league was going when it rebranded and expanded. It was simply known as the United Soccer League, or USL, prior to 2019.

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While MLS is a growing soccer league that’s flourishing in a number of North American cities, USL Championship’s doing the same thing on a smaller scale. However, it’s in even more cities than MLS is reaching. Think of USL Championship to MLS as what Triple-A baseball is to the MLB—or G League to the NBA, or XFL to the NFL—and you get an idea of where it fits into the landscape.

The bottom line is: If you don’t have enough soccer in your life, and you’ve got ESPN+, USL Championship provides a path to homegrown American-hosted soccer.

What is USL Championship?

Simply put, USL Championship is the second-best soccer league in the United States. But at 35 teams and growing, it’s actually bigger than MLS. It enjoys a close relationship with MLS, and, indeed, some of the league’s teams are essentially JV teams for MLS (like Atlanta United 2, New York Red Bulls II, and LA Galaxy II). However, some are fiercely independent and reflect their local cultures, including Las Vegas Lights FC, whose outlandish promotions including foam parties next to the field and cash drops from helicopters for lucky fans, and The Miami FC (yes, with the article), which successfully courted Pitbull to become a fan despite a new MLS team arriving in Miami this season.

Some American soccer legends are involved in USL as owners and front-office executives. Landon Donovan, who led efforts to bring an MLS team to San Diego, is owner, executive VP of soccer operations, and head coach of the expansion San Diego Loyal SC. Tim Howard moved out of retirement to become sporting director and an owner of Memphis 901 FC—but he will also pull the gloves back in and step onto the field to become the team’s goalkeeper.

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Why is it called USL Championship?

In England, the top-tier league is, quite famously, the Premier League, and then the second through fourth divisions are called the Championship, League One, and League Two. USL has grown in recent years to gather a similar second through fourth divisions, so in 2019, the league decided to rebrand those divisions to reflect the English naming system. It probably makes less sense in the U.S. than it does in England, but USL is banking on soccer-savvy fans knowing the English tiers and applying them to this league.

USL Championship Teams

Western Conference

  • Austin Bold FC
  • Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
  • El Paso Locomotive FC
  • FC Tulsa
  • LA Galaxy II
  • Las Vegas Lights FC
  • New Mexico United
  • Oklahoma City Energy FC
  • Orange County SC
  • Phoenix Rising FC
  • Portland Timbers 2
  • Real Monarchs SLC
  • Reno 1868 FC
  • Rio Grande Valley FC Toros
  • Sacramento Republic FC
  • San Antonio FC
  • San Diego Loyal SC
  • Tacoma Defiance

Eastern Conference

  • Atlanta United 2
  • Birmingham Legion FC
  • Charleston Battery
  • Charlotte Independence
  • Hartford Athletic
  • Indy Eleven
  • Loudoun United FC
  • Louisville City FC
  • Memphis 901 FC
  • New York Red Bulls II
  • North Carolina FC
  • Philadelphia Union II
  • Pittsburgh Riverhounds
  • Saint Louis FC
  • Sporting Kansas City II
  • Tampa Bay Rowdies
  • The Miami FC
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How to watch USL matches online

All USL Championship matches are available to stream on ESPN+. Typing “USL” in the ESPN+ search box will pull up all the available matches. If you’re looking for a specific team, search should get you to that team’s matches; for example, “Bold” is enough for ESPN+ to know you’re looking for Austin Bold FC.

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ESPN+ is a subscription service that extends ESPN’s existing website and app, and it’s essential for soccer fans in particular, carrying Serie A+, MLS, USL, and FA Cup matches. It encompasses other sporting events as well, including 20 exclusive UFC Fight Night events per year, 180 NHL games, at least one MLB game a day for every day of the season, and a cornucopia of college sports.

ESPN+ also features the network’s sports talk programming, and it features original series starting with the entire 30 for 30 catalog ESPN made its name on. It also unlocks more content and fewer ads on the ESPN site.

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USL Championship: What’s next?

There are plans for two more expansion franchises: one in the East Bay based in or near Oakland, California, and another in Queens, New York, named Queensboro FC that has former Barcelona and NYCFC star David Villa involved.

Also, in what will cheer a certain segment of American soccer fandom, USL continues to posit the idea of promotion and relegation within the three-league system. There’s not yet a set plan or timetable as to how the best League One teams might, for example, swap places with the worst Championship teams, but USL president Jake Edwards has noted that as long as League One teams can build their infrastructure up, the possibility’s there.

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*First Published: Mar 6, 2020, 8:56 pm