At its meeting on Sunday in New York, the U.S. Soccer board of directors granted professional league sanctioning to Major League Soccer, National Women's Soccer League and the United Soccer League for
MLS and the NWSL are Division I leagues, while the USL was sanctioned as a Division II league for the second year.
A U.S. Soccer statement said the NWSL and USL would
get a "two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards" and the USL had "demonstrated substantial progress" toward reaching full compliance. The goal is for full compliance
before the 2020 season.
The NWSL will operate with 10 teams in its sixth season, gaining the Utah Royals and losing FC Kansas City. The USL is up to 33 teams for 2018 -- six in, three out
-- and already has announced new teams in Austin, Birmingham and Memphis for 2019.
Professional league sanctioning has been at issue in American pro soccer in the last two years as the
NASL and USL were granted provisional sanctioning as Division II leagues in 2017 but the NASL was denied sanctioning as a Division II league in 2018.
The NASL filed a lawsuit in Federal
court, seeking an injunction to require U.S. Soccer to sanction the NASL as a Division II league in 2018 while it sought a permanent injunction to eliminate divisional classifications.
The NASL lost that case and appealed. While a decision is still pending, the league announced
it will not play in the spring. It hopes to return in the fall to
start a fall-spring calendar but is down to four teams.
The NASL lost four of its eight teams -- down from 12 in 2016 -- following the 2017 season. The champion San Francisco Deltas and
FC Edmonton folded, and North Carolina FC and Indy Eleven moved to the USL.