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League’s westward expansion gains steam

TAMPA, Fla. – USL PRO announced that an expansion franchise in Sacramento, California will join the league for the 2014 season. The announcement was made at a news conference in Sacramento. Warren Smith, SVP of Business Development for Clean World Partners and co-founder of the Sacramento Rivercats (MILB), will lead the new franchise. 

“USL PRO is thrilled to expand into Sacramento for the 2014 season,” USL President Tim Holt said. “With Phoenix FC Wolves joining the league in 2013 and the Los Angeles Blues having already developed a successful presence in Southern California, Sacramento represents yet another significant step towards our objective of achieving a regionalized competition approach in the West.  This remains a fundamental aspect of a USL PRO business model which is resonating with prospective team owners as the most sustainable for professional soccer at levels which support MLS.  Warren Smith is a widely-respected and highly-accomplished figure in the Sacramento sports community and has presented a very impressive vision for professional soccer in Sacramento. By partnering with him we know USL PRO will be successful in Sacramento for many years to come.”

USL PRO is the strongest, best operated and most experienced North American men’s professional soccer league below MLS, both on and off the field. Focused on franchise stability and longevity, USL PRO will feature 13 teams in 2013 with more than half boasting a decade or more of operational experience. Expansion teams in Phoenix, Arizona and Tampa, Florida will begin participation in the 2013 season.

The league is focused on aggressive, but deliberate growth by adding teams fully capable of meeting USL and US Soccer Federation standards, which are located in markets that further promote regional league play. In addition to league play, USL PRO teams will continue to compete in the national Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and various domestic and international exhibitions. USL PRO is the longest standing pro league affiliate member within the US Soccer Federation.

Smith led the grassroots effort starting in 1997 to build a professional baseball stadium and attract a professional baseball team to the Sacramento area. He successfully negotiated all real estate agreements necessary for the stadium development, which included the largest naming rights partnership in minor league baseball and a joint venture agreement with Savage Baseball Group that led to Raley Field’s development and the Sacramento River Cats moving to West Sacramento, California.

The franchise will plan a series of exhibition matches during 2013 involving domestic and international professional soccer teams. In addition, supporter events, soccer clinics and player appearances will be scheduled leading up to the 2014 season. In 2013, the franchise will begin the process of naming the team with input and engagement from soccer fans.

"Sacramento is one of the strongest soccer regions in the country," Smith said. "We already have numerous professional soccer players that are from Sacramento, or make their home here. It is time for the people of Sacramento to have the opportunity to watch them play on the national stage and to show the rest of the world what a great soccer community our region is. I am grateful to Mayor Kevin Johnson, Think Big, USL, the soccer community and the many regional leaders that have scored this goal for our city."

Smith has entered into an Exclusive Right to Negotiate (ERN) with Sacramento City College relating to holding professional soccer matches at Hughes Stadium. The two organizations are actively working through the details with the intent to enter into an agreement in the early first quarter, 2013.

"I welcome USL PRO to Sacramento," Sacramento’s Mayor Kevin Johnson said. "Attracting more jobs and civic amenities to our community is an essential part of elevating our profile as a vibrant and emerging region."

The Sacramento area contains one of the strongest regional soccer scenes in the United States, with some of the highest youth soccer participation rates in the country, as well as successful high school and collegiate programs. Numerous professional players from Sacramento currently play in Major League Soccer and USL PRO. During the 2010 World Cup, Univision had higher viewership in Sacramento than ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX stations combined for the game between Mexico and Costa Rica. Sacramento was also consistently in the top 10 for ESPN/ABC Neilsen ratings during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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