The Louisville City Football Club will lose its affiliation with Major League Soccer’s Orlando City Soccer Club, for which it has served as something akin to a farm team, at the end of this season. But the two, who share an investor, will retain a partnership allowing them to trade players in the future.
In an announcement on Tuesday, Orlando City said it would create its own local United Soccer League team to serve as a player development tool, edging Louisville out of its MLS affiliation for the time being. As a consolation, Orlando City is scheduled to visit Louisville for a match Aug. 25.
The front office at Louisville City will look for other affiliates, including international clubs, for next season, said spokesman Steve Peake.
“As for us, it allows us to continue to build our brand and continue to get our own thing going here in Louisville,” Peake said.
Louisville City currently features one Orlando player, Sidney Rivera, on its roster. Orlando City founder and president Phil Rawlins thanked Louisville in a statement, calling the team “a first-class organization.”
The Florida club follows several other MLS teams in creating its own USL unit. The L.A. Galaxy, FC Montreal and the New York Redbulls each added their own lower-league developmental teams this season. Of the 24 USL teams, 12 have MLS affiliations for the 2015 season (including Louisville) and four are unaffiliated.
A group of local investors paid $500,000 to buy the franchise from Orlando City last year, in a deal that included Orlando retaining a stake in the Louisville team. The local investors include an LLC directed by MCM Founding Partner Michael Mountjoy, as well as Gill Holland, Matthew Barzun and Peritus Founder and Principal Tim Mulloy. Louisville City FC Chairman Wayne Estopinal also maintains an ownership stake in the Orlando team.
Mulloy was upbeat about the future of the team and its more limited partnership with Orlando City.
“We’re thrilled to continue our relationship with our friends in Orlando,” he told IL. “They’ve had remarkable success, none of which surprises any of us based on their success down there in their first MLS season.”
The split comes as Louisville City FC is picking up steam in the local market. The team averages roughly 6,000 attendees per match, Peake told IL, nearly double the league average for home matches and second in the league behind Sacramento, a city considerably more accustomed to professional sports. At 6-3-5, the club has been competitive in the league and counts Mayor Greg Fischer among its dedicated attendees.
Meanwhile, the USL is growing rapidly in the U.S. The league — which makes up the third tier of professional American soccer, behind MLS and the North American Soccer League — added 13 teams this season. And the expansion will continue: To the north, Cincinnati is planning to add a team next season.
The league has also shown some mobility potential, with Orlando City ascending from the USL, where it started in 2011, to MLS this year.
Mulloy said with the energy in the league and growing support in Louisville — where the team’s investors have put capital behind improvements to practice fields on River Road and upgrades at Slugger Field — the prospects for the team remain good.
“We’re most excited about the success we’ve had here on the field and in the stands,” he said.
This story originally said the new Orlando USL team would visit Louisville for a match Aug. 25. It is actually the Orlando City MLS team that is scheduled to play Louisville City FC on that date. The story has been updated.