Republic FC midfielder Max Alvarez (11) keeps the ball away from City Islanders midfielder Leonardo Fernandes (10) during the USL Pro Championship game between the Sacramento Republic FC and the Harrisburg City Islanders at Bonney Field in Sacramento on Saturday, September 27, 2014. Randall Benton rbenton@sacbee.com
Republic FC midfielder Max Alvarez (11) keeps the ball away from City Islanders midfielder Leonardo Fernandes (10) during the USL Pro Championship game between the Sacramento Republic FC and the Harrisburg City Islanders at Bonney Field in Sacramento on Saturday, September 27, 2014. Randall Benton rbenton@sacbee.com

Soccer

USL Pro expands to 24 teams; Republic FC will play in Western Conference

By Bill Paterson

bpaterson@sacbee.com

January 21, 2015 11:17 PM

With the New York Red Bulls adding a developmental team, USL Pro announced Wednesday it will have 24 teams in 2015, 10 more than last season.

League officials also announced 12-team Eastern and Western Conference alignments.

Defending USL Pro champion Republic FC will play in the Western Conference with returning teams Arizona United SC, LA Galaxy II, OKC Energy FC and the Orange County Blues FC.

Joining them will be the independent expansion Austin Aztex, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and Tulsa Roughnecks FC and the Major League Soccer developmental Portland Timbers 2, Real Monarchs SLC, Seattle Sounders FC 2 and Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2.

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The Eastern Conference includes the returning Charleston Battery, Harrisburg City Islanders, Richmond Kickers, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Rochester Rhinos and Wilmington Hammerheads FC. Joining them will be the independent expansion Charlotte Independence, Saint Louis FC and Louisville City FC as well as the MLS developmental Red Bulls, FC Montreal and Toronto FC II.

With seven new MLS developmental teams joining the returning LA Galaxy II, the Charlotte Eagles and Dayton Dutch Lions have dropped to the fourth-division Premier Development League after playing in USL Pro last season. Regular-season champion Orlando City FC has moved to MLS.

Teams will play each conference opponent home and away during the 28-game regular season, plus six matches against geographic rivals. The schedule will be released this month.

Twelve teams, six from each conference, will qualify for the playoffs.

Republic’s coaching shuffle ‑ Republic FC technical director Graham Smith admits he had mixed feelings when team president Warren Smith hired Adam Smith as the assistant head coach to Preki.

It’s not that Graham Smith thinks his son isn’t qualified. Adam Smith spent four years coaching with the Portland Timbers, first as goalkeepers coach, then as goalkeeping director and academy director.

“I told Warren as far as I was concerned, I wasn’t taking part in any of this,” Graham Smith said. “I know some people are going to say he got the job because he’s his father’s son … . But there is no doubt that Adam is coming here on merit. His record speaks for itself.”

Adam Smith has 20 years of coaching experience, including as an assistant coach and youth development director for the Wilmington Hammerheads FC.

He also will continue as technical director and girls coaching director for the Elk Grove Youth Soccer League, which hired him in December to help in the continued development of the 6,000-player club.

“It’s a great opportunity for Adam to learn from Preki, just as Rod Underwood did last year,” Graham Smith said.

Underwood, Preki’s right-hand man last season while on loan from the Timbers, has been promoted to head Republic FC’s new youth academy program, which the team hopes to launch this year.

Underwood and Adam Smith worked together in Portland’s academy program.

Eye-catching local – Forward Dalton Pando, 18, of Folsom made an impression at last weekend’s two-day Republic FC open tryout.

“He stood out head and shoulders over the others,” Graham Smith said. “We really like his footwork, and he’s someone we’d like to keep an eye on because he may be interested in starting a pro career.”

Smith invited Pando to a Southern California combine this weekend hosted by the Ventura County Fusion.

Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.

THE NEW USL

Western Conference

Arizona United SC

Austin Aztex

Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC

LA Galaxy II

OKC Energy FC

Orange County Blues FC

Portland Timbers 2

Real Monarchs SLC

Republic FC

Seattle Sounders FC 2

Tulsa Roughnecks FC

Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2

Eastern Conference

Charleston Battery

Charlotte Independence

FC Montreal

Harrisburg City Islanders

Louisville City FC

New York Red Bulls

Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Richmond Kickers

Rochester Rhinos

Saint Louis FC

Toronto FC II

Wilmington Hammerheads FC