By Zachary Baru
A new season for the Western Mass. Pioneers is here, and while the soccer will still be the same as the unofficial fourth-tier of American soccer, the Premier Development League is no more.
While the PDL name has changed, the Pioneers' league is technically still the same, as the PDL has changed their name to USL League 2. The United Soccer League went through a series of restructuring this season, which was initially announced back in 2017, but has just come into full fruition.
The first of many changes from the USL for the 2019 season was the organization dropping the "s" from their name, changing from the United Soccer Leagues to the United Soccer League. Secondly, the USL changed their highest level league from the self-named United Soccer League to USL Championship. The new league name did not change the level of play, as USL Championship is still recognized as a second tier league by the U.S. Soccer Federation, just as the formerly-named USL was.
The next change for the USL organization was the addition of a new league for the 2019 season. This league is called USL League One, recognized as a third tier league by U.S. Soccer. That makes the Pioneers' new league, USL League Two, commonly recognized as a fourth tier league in North America, however U.S. Soccer does not officially recognize the league as fourth tier since U.S. Soccer does not include non-professional leagues in their hierarchy.
When it comes to USL League Two, however, make no mistake about it, this is an extremely competitive and well-run organization. Besides the name change, USL League Two is comprised of 72 franchises across 4 divisions in North America, and is as strong as the league has ever been. The league is arguably even stronger now after the USL's restructuring of their leagues, making way for the Pioneers' new league to represent a true progression of talent across of the leagues of the USL.
We are fortunate to have an extremely high level of soccer in our own backyard. Lusitano Stadium, home of the Pioneers and now the New England Mutiny, is a special venue that has been nationally recognized for its intimacy and soccer-specific design. No matter where you decide to sit or stand, you can be right on top of the action with perfect sight lines. For Western Mass. soccer fans, having a strong league like USL League Two, a quality franchise like the Pioneers, and the unique venue of Lusitano Stadium so close to home is a true gift, and one no soccer fan should live without.
Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at email@example.com.