image via uslsoccer.com
USL released the conference alignment for 2016 on Wednesday. As expected, San Antonio will compete in the 15 team Western Conference. The remaining 14 teams will compete in the Eastern Conference.
The head-scratcher is why St. Louis FC would be moved from the East to the West for the upcoming season. Reno is joining the league in 2017 and Austin Aztex are only on a hiatus, expected to rejoin in 2017 or 2018 once they’ve secured a stadium. Maybe the idea is to keep the west with more teams both now and next year when Reno joins and Austin re-joins. If St. Louis moves back to the east, 2017 could be 16:15.
The season start and end dates were also announced, with the regular season beginning March 25th and ending September 25th. Each team will play 30 matches over 27 weeks. If San Antonio plays a home-away with each western team, that leaves two matches available for either eastern conference play or (more likely in my opinion) derby / rivalry play. With many teams working on limited budgets, it seems more cost effective to only play in-conference for the regular season.
The playoffs will see the top 8 regular season teams from each conference working through a single-elimination bracket to become conference champion before playing a USL championship game between the winner of each conference bracket.
The USL season is a little different from the NASL split-season that San Antonio fans saw with the NASL Scorpions, but a significantly bigger league with a potential for an in-state rivalry with Rio Grande Valley Toros FC could mean a much more exciting league to enjoy.