The pandemic has caused another American soccer casualty. One of the USL Championship’s more successful clubs, Reno 1868, announced Friday that it was ceasing operations and folding immediately. Reno posted a winning record in each of its four seasons and finished with the best overall record during the second-tier circuit’s 2020 regular season.
“This isn’t the way we saw 2020 going,” club president Eric Edelstein said in a written statement. “Today we find ourselves in a world-wide community beset by a pandemic and we are unexpectedly forced to make a tough decision. I am heartbroken to let go of Reno 1868 FC and I apologize to all who are disappointed that we are ending our participation in the USL Championship.”
Reno maintained an affiliation with the San Jose Earthquakes and briefly fielded players like Jackson Yueill, the Quakes midfielder who’s now been capped seven times by the USA. In addition, it hired former San Jose midfielder Ian Russell as head coach. Russell, 45, guided Reno to a 66-34-30 record in all competitions and four USL Championship playoff berths, and this season he was named the league’s co-coach of the year. Reno was knocked out of the USL Cup quarterfinals by Phoenix Rising on penalty kicks.
Last weekend’s USL Cup final was cancelled following a coronavirus outbreak among the host Tampa Bay Rowdies. The League One final, USL League Two season, NPSL season and U.S. Open Cup also have been lost this year.
Reno’s problem was that it was the secondary tenant at Greater Nevada Field, a baseball stadium used primarily as the home for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Aces and Reno 1868 are owned by Herbert Simon, a real estate developer reportedly worth some $2.5 billion, according to Forbes. Simon also owns the NBA’s Indiana Pacers and the WNBA’s Indiana Fever. But Simon’s shopping mall business was hit hard by the pandemic, and his Nevada stadium’s secondary tenant—the soccer team—became an easier cut (it didn’t help that owners pay player salaries in the USL, unlike in Minor League Baseball).
“The quality of soccer in America is quickly accelerating and as such would require upgraded facilities. Soccer in America is quickly outgrowing baseball stadiums,” Reno 1868 said Friday. “The club believed a soccer stadium in northern Nevada would be necessary for soccer to expand and compete in the current landscape of second division professional soccer. This prospect for 1868 FC was difficult pre-COVID-19, but in a prolonged pandemic it became unrealistic.”
Of the four USL teams that have shut down over the past year-plus, three played in baseball stadiums: Reno, Fresno FC (USLC) and Lansing Ignite (USL League One). The fourth, Saint Louis FC (USLC), is folding because of the imminent arrival of MLS expansion club St. Louis City. USL’s expansion strategy going forward is focusing on soccer-specific stadiums.
The departure of Reno, STLFC, Portland Timbers 2 and Philadelphia Union II, along with the 2021 addition of Oakland Roots, leaves the USL Championship with 32 clubs heading into next season. Queensboro FC is set to come aboard in 2022, while groups in Des Moines, Iowa; Buffalo, N.Y.; Providence, R.I.; and Monterey, Calif., are currently pursuing expansion teams.