The Little Rock Rangers are switching soccer leagues for the 2021 season.
On Thursday, the Rangers announced that they are moving from the National Premier Soccer League to the United Soccer League.
The Rangers will play in the USL's League Two, a developmental soccer league founded by the USL. League Two is considered part of soccer's fourth tier, in which the NPSL is a part of. The top tiers of American soccer are Major League Soccer (Division I), the United Soccer League Championship division (Division II), the National Independent Soccer Association and USL League One (Division III).
"We're very excited to have Little Rock Rangers join League Two," USL League Two Vice President Joel Nash said in a news release. "The club does tremendous work in building a pathway for aspiring professional soccer players in its local community, and we're confident that competing in League Two can help them do so at an even higher level. They will make an excellent addition to the league."
Rangers owner Jonathan Wardlaw said talks with the USL began in July and they picked up over the past couple of weeks. Soon enough, Little Rock became the league's newest expansion team.
"I feel that the USL is a better product," Wardlaw said. "There's more support. It provides a true pathway for players who want to go to pro."
Wardlaw did not disclose the Rangers' expansion fee into the USL League Two, which includes 85 teams and four conferences.
The Rangers will compete in the Mid South Division of the USL League Two's Central Conference. Teams in the Mid South Division include five Texas teams (Corpus Christi FC, Houston FC, Texas United, AHFC Royals in Houston and Brazos Valley Cavalry FC in Bryan) as well as Mississippi Brilla FC.
Wardlaw noted that the Texas teams in the Rangers' division could lead to some rivalries early on in the franchise's USL tenure.
"There's all those love-hate relationships between Arkansas and Texas," said Wardlaw, referring to the rivalry between the University of Arkansas and the University of Texas.
Little Rock began its franchise in 2016 in the NPSL and played four seasons in the league. However, covid-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 season in March.
The Rangers' best season in the NPSL was in 2018, when they went 7-3 and advanced to the NPSL's regional finals, where they lost to eventual league champion Miami FC 2.
In its final season in the NPSL in 2019, the Rangers finished 4-6-1 and in second place in the Heartland Conference, losing to Demize NPSL in the first round of the NPSL playoffs.
The USL schedule is expected to be released later this year. Wardlaw said the Rangers are looking forward to planning for the 2021 season, including season ticket plans and merchandising.
When asked how the coronavirus pandemic affected the Rangers, Wardlaw said the franchise is fine and that it is looking forward to playing in 2021 in their new league
"We offered refunds to our season ticket holders," Wardlaw said. "Only a few of them actually asked for one. We did have some bills to pay.
"But we'll be alright. We'll continue to play here."