USL announces 2023 Championship format
Lots of travel involved
The USL today released initial details on the Championship format for the 2023 season. There are some changes from last year, and mostly for the better.
Obviously, with the remaining MLS 2 teams dropping out, some things had to change. Not least of those would be conference alignment. However, mathematically, it all worked out conveniently well. The league lost 3 teams, bringing the total to 24. 1 in the West (LA ), 2 in the East (Atlanta and New York). Since the East had 1 more team than the West, that meant that the two conferences now have equal numbers at 12, with no teams having to switch conferences this year. So the Legion’s conference rivals are entirely unchanged.
As far as scheduling the season is concerned, the league is sticking with a 34-game regular season. And here’s the kicker: since there will be 22 conference games, that leaves a rather attractive 12 games out of conference. And that means every team will play all members of the other conference, 6 at home and 6 away. That could have been achieved with 3 9-team conferences in 2022, but this is far neater. The only imbalance in the season will be in who you play at home and who away. Much more even than the somewhat messy arrangement that prevailed this past season.
The playoffs are also changing again. Each conference will be back to 8 teams qualifying for the playoffs, so the 2 champions will not get a bye. That would perhaps make winning the conference less attractive if you are a fan of first round byes (I’m not), but the league also chose to eliminate the reseeding after the first round, so getting the top seed is just as important as it was this past year.
This also means that only 4 teams in each conference will not qualify for the playoffs. But in the East especially, the least competitive teams are now gone and some of the other non-playoff teams are looking to be much stronger than they were last season. Notably, Hartford Athletic have beefed up their entire roster of coaches and players. An independent Loudoun United could likewise be more competitive. The Charleston Battery might still be in rebuilding mode, but Indy Eleven are also making some positive off-season moves. I anticipate that the competition for the bottom 2 or 3 playoff spots will be much tougher. And therefore much more entertaining.
No season schedule has been announced yet, except that the Championship final will be held some time in the second week of November.
All nice and neat, but of course that will be upset in 2024 as the league expands again.