Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
Since Sacramento Republic FC claimed the USL Cup in 2014, newcomers to the USL have continued to have a major impact on the league in their first seasons. While Ottawa Fury FC, Reno 1868 FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies didn’t quite claim silverware upon their arrival to the league this year, the impact all three made on the league’s landscape gave the promise of much to be excited about in the future for each club.
Ottawa Fury FC’s arrival in the USL came with a tremendous fan base at TD Place, and while the club suffered an up-and-down season on the field, the highs produced some remarkable moments for the club in 2017. From Steevan Dos Santos’ incredible halfway-line goal against the Richmond Kickers to earning victory in the home leg of its clash with Toronto FC in the Amway Canadian Championship’s semifinals before more than 7,500 fans at TD Place, Fury FC provided more memorable moments for the Bytown Boys and Stony Monday Riot throughout the year.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies, meanwhile, established Al Lang Stadium as one of the toughest places to play in the USL, as they maintained a place near the top of the Eastern Conference for much of the season. With the standout play of new addition and former German international Marcel Schäfer leading the way, the Rowdies set a strong marker as a club that will be a USL Cup contender in the future after falling in one of the most dramatic games in the history of the USL Cup Playoffs to end their 2017 season.
One of the biggest stories in the USL over the year, though, was the immediate impact and explosive attack that Reno 1868 FC produced, as fans flocked to Greater Nevada Field to celebrate the club’s inaugural season. Boasting both the USL Most Valuable Player in Dane Kelly and the Rookie of the Year in Chris Wehan, 1868 FC set a USL single-season record with 75 goals in the regular season as it advanced to the USL Cup Playoffs in a highly competitive Western Conference. The club’s early playoff elimination will only serve as fuel for Head Coach Ian Russell’s squad as it moves into year two with confidence.
With more newcomers arriving to the USL in 2018, the excitement around the league continues to grow with Fresno FC, Las Vegas Lights FC, Nashville SC, North Carolina FC and Atlanta United’s new addition all gunning for similar success as their predecessors.
For fans in Ottawa, Reno and Tampa Bay, though, the sights are now set high to ensure continued success on and off the field.