On Wednesday, the USL Championship announced an updated format for the remainder of the 2020 season that will see clubs divided into eight groups to complete a 16-game regular season followed by a single-elimination playoff.
Teams that already began play in early March, will see those game count.
The Riverhounds SC are one of three clubs that did not play prior to the season suspension in early March. They will play their full 16 games upon the resumption of play, tentatively scheduled to begin July 11.
Here are the basic details from the league’s release sent Wednesday.
Regular Season Structure
In order to limit travel, the regular season will see the Championship’s clubs divided into eight regionalized groups, and each team will complete a 16-game regular season. There will be five groups made up of four teams, and three groups made up of five teams to cover the 35 member clubs of the Championship.
The regular season games will be played over 13 weeks, concluding on the weekend of October 2-4. Games completed prior to the season suspension in March will be counted and included in the schedule, with teams that were active on the opening weekend of the season having 15 games remaining in their schedule.
Both San Diego Loyal SC and the Tacoma Defiance – who completed two games prior to the season suspension – will have 14 games remaining in their respective schedules. The three clubs that did not play prior to the season suspension – Birmingham Legion FC, Hartford Athletic and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – will play their full 16 games upon the resumption of play.
Groups A-D (Western Conference) will be revealed on Thursday, and Groups E-H (Eastern Conference) on Friday. All announcements will take place between 12-2 p.m. ET.
Balance of Schedule
Each team’s schedule will be made up of 12 games from within its own group, with the remaining four games to be played against teams that fall within a similar geographic region. Through this, each team placed in a four-team group will play its three fellow group members four times, while each team placed in a five-team group will play its four fellow group members three times.
Games played prior to the suspension of the season will count toward the allotment of 16 overall games, either as in-group contests or as one of the additional four contests that will complete the schedule.
Teams will be initially scheduled to play a balanced schedule of eight games home and away in the regular season. However, the Board of Governors has also approved the ability for clubs to play an unbalanced amount of home and away matches, if necessary. For example, if a club is experiencing difficulties with venue availability due to the impact of COVID-19 in their community.
Five Substitution Rule
As was previously announced, the Championship will allow five substitutes to be used for the remainder of the 2020 season, with each team having three opportunities to make its substitutions during regular play. Substitutions may also be made at halftime without counting against a club’s three in-game opportunities.
Welp, they're not going back to the original five sub rule (going back to 2015), but this is a noteworthy rule change. https://t.co/oq7MYbU76e
— John Krysinsky (@JohnKrysinsky) June 23, 2020
2020 USL Championship Playoffs Structure
The top two teams from each group in the regular season will advance to the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs, producing a field of 16 teams overall in a regionalized single-elimination bracket. Group winners will be paired with Group runners-up in the Round of 16, with home advantage being determined by record for the remainder of the bracket.
Projected Schedule Scenarios
In all likelihood, it would be hard to see a scenario where the Hounds will not end up being aligned with the Northeastern corridor of teams in USL Championship which includes New York Red Bulls II, Philadelphia Union II and Hartford Athletic. The big question is, what happens to Loudoun United, the closest team to Pittsburgh? Do they go down to another group with Charlotte, North Carolina FC, Charleston and possibly Atlanta United 2, or are they part of a five-team grouping in the Northeast?
Miami, Tampa Bay, Birmingham and Atlanta United 2, would make up the Southern most group of teams. Another question, is where does Memphis go? Do they go with a potential Midwestern group of teams including Louisville City FC, Indy Eleven, Saint Louis, Sporting KC II or do they align with the other four Southern-most clubs?
One request that would be nice would be to see the Hounds play at least one, or a home-and-home series with long-time remaining Old Guard Shield rivals, Charleston Battery. However, this would require a longer trip, and with all of the COVID-19 precautions being put in place, it would be completely understandable if this would not be possible in 2020.
The @USLChampionship has released a competition structure for the USL 2020 Season:
– 16 game season
– 8 regional groups throughout the country
– 4-5 teams per group (our prediction shown here)
– Top 2 of each group enter a playoff tournament (single elimination) https://t.co/t7AVjlrNIE pic.twitter.com/ayUNGdBLPH
— "Nutmeg State" Podcast (@Nutmeg_State) June 24, 2020
Here’s what I am thinking the 16-game format will look like for the Hounds:
12 Group Matches
- Four games (2 home/2 away) vs each team in group. (NY Red Bulls II, Hartford FC, Philadelphia Union II)
4 additional matches vs regional opponents:
- Louisville City FC
- Loudoun United
- Home & Away vs Charleston Battery (Old Guard Shield)
Hounds vs a bunch of 2-teams.
Can't wait. https://t.co/V9knbpSiYH
— Steel Army (@SteelArmy) June 24, 2020