MEMPHIS, Tennessee -- Downtown Memphis’ newest professional sports team was unveiled Monday by Major League Soccer star, United States National Team goalkeeper, and Memphian Tim Howard, with the ownership group led by Principal Owner Peter Freund, President Craig Unger, and the St. Louis Cardinals organization revealing plans to bring a United Soccer League team to AutoZone Park.
The yet-to-be-named USL Memphis team will play its inaugural season in 2019 at the downtown home of the Memphis Redbirds, which will be converted from a soccer venue to a baseball stadium throughout the season. The stadium will take on a soccer-specific atmosphere with the transformation to an authentic soccer experience, including food and beverage options, unique seating areas, and more to highlight the joy of the game and passion of its supporters.
“When I first visited AutoZone Park before purchasing the Redbirds, I immediately recognized the potential for it to be home to more than one professional sports team," said Freund. “We will build an entirely separate organization focused on providing an authentic soccer experience similar to what Yankee Stadium, home to the New York City Football Club, has been able to achieve at the MLS level."
“AutoZone Park is a big part of the fabric of the city and is the setting for so many memories for people each year, and now, we are going to be able to invite even more people to experience the excitement,” said Unger. “The stadium will now be buzzing every weekend from March through September.”
“Memphis is my home in the offseason, and I cannot express how excited I am to support professional soccer downtown,” Howard said. “We will have a chance to see some of the brightest talent in the game playing in our city, and I look forward to helping the USL Memphis organization on any and every level I can to ensure its success."
In 2018, the 34 USL teams will play 34 matches over 31 weeks in the regular season running from late March through mid-Oct., with Louisville City FC the defending USL Cup champion. The nationally-spread league is divided into Eastern and Western Conferences and focuses on regional rivalries in scheduling.
Memphis will join the league alongside Austin and Birmingham in 2019. Upon arrival, Memphis will be part of a group of 10 current teams within a 500-mile radius of each other, including Louisville City FC, the Charleston Battery, the Charlotte Independence, Saint Louis FC, and the Swope Park Rangers.
For more information, visit www.usl2memphis.com and follow the franchise on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at USL Memphis. The team name and colors are scheduled to be unveiled at a later date.
Deposits for priority access to season tickets are available now and include a gift of a USL Memphis scarf or one of three USL Memphis t-shirts. Deposits can be made at www.usl2memphis.com/tickets.
About the USL:
The USL, headquartered in Tampa, Fla., is one of the most prominent Division II professional soccer leagues in the world, reaching a population of more than 75 million people to fuel the growth of professional soccer across North America.
In 2016, more than $100 million were invested league-wide into stadium infrastructure to create venues that deliver an unforgettable fan and competitor experience. The USL has national media partnerships with ESPN and SiriusXM, and recently invested $10 million to create USL Productions – which includes a state-of-the-art facility that will produce and distribute nearly 500 league matches and more than 1,000 hours of original content to national partners, local affiliates, USL’s Match Center and international markets.
A growing league, the USL has more than doubled in size since 2014, with Ottawa Fury FC, Reno 1868 FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies debuting in 2017. Nashville SC, Fresno FC, Las Vegas Lights FC, North Carolina FC and a new club operated by Atlanta United of Major League Soccer are set to join the league for 2018, with Birmingham, Alabama, Austin, Texas and Memphis, Tennessee, set to join the league in 2019. Beyond league play, the USL regularly features international exhibitions against leading Premier League, Liga MX, and Bundesliga clubs, among others.
The USL was formed when two existing professional leagues were combined into a single league property before the 2011 season. The league was designed to help ensure the long-term stability of professional soccer in North America, and featured 12 teams in a pair of six-team divisions during its initial campaign. Among the league’s founding members are five longtime USL clubs with more than 100 years of operation among them – the Charleston Battery, Harrisburg City Islanders, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Richmond Kickers and Rochester Rhinos. In January of 2017, after a thorough application review process, the U.S. Soccer Federation granted the USL Division II status beginning in the 2017 season, recognizing the significant investment and high level of operating excellence of the USL and its member clubs.
Major League Soccer and the USL announced a multi-year partnership in early 2013 designed to enhance the development of professional players in North America.
Four years later, the partnership between the two leagues has proven to be a resounding success. The LA Galaxy II, the first team in league history to be owned and operated by an MLS club, entered competition in the USL in 2014, opening the door for additional teams to either launch a USL affiliate or partner with an independent USL club.
In 2017, expansion side Reno 1868 FC, led by Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon, partnered with the MLS’s San Jose Earthquakes to bring professional soccer to Nevada.
Overall, there are 10 USL teams owned and operated by MLS clubs and 11 USL-MLS affiliations among the USL clubs set to compete in 2018.