Riverhounds open season March 24; Greenspan signs one-year deal
The USL on Friday announced its conference alignment and home openers for the 2018 season, opting to stick with an East/West format despite the league growing to 33 teams for the upcoming season.
A widely rumored switch to a three-conference format was put off for another year with the announcement, as the Riverhounds will play in a 16-team Eastern Conference — up from 15 a year ago — while the Western Conference will be crowded with 17 clubs.
In addition to the conference announcement, the Riverhounds' first two games were revealed when USL announced home openers for all 33 teams.
The Riverhounds begin the season on the road March 24 at expansion Nashville SC, but the game will not be the new franchise's first. Nashville goes on the road to face defending champion Louisville City on March 17. The Riverhounds are one of five teams without a game on the opening weekend, March 16-18.
The Riverhounds' home opener will be March 31 against Penn FC, the newly rebranded Harrisburg City Islanders. The last time Harrisburg visited Highmark Stadium for a season opener was 2015, when the Riverhounds took a 5-2 win that started them on the path to their most recent playoff appearance.
Notable changes to the East include the addition of Nashville and fellow expansion team Atlanta, while the Indy Eleven and North Carolina FC both join the USL after leaving the financially distressed North American Soccer League.
Absent in the East are MLS-owned Orlando City B and the independent Rochester Rhinos. The four-time league champion Rhinos are taking a year off from competition in an effort to stabilize their own finances, a move the Riverhounds made and survived in the 2007 season.
The Riverhounds also won't have to worry about facing former striker Corey Hertzog in 2018. St. Louis FC, where Hertzog signed as a free agent after leading the Riverhounds in scoring the past two seasons, was moved from the East to the Western Conference, a move that was met with instant disapproval from St. Louis fans upset over longer road trips and the harm to growing rivalries with Cincinnati and league champion Louisville.
As in previous seasons, eight teams from each conference will reach the playoffs. The 2018 schedule, expected to be released next week, will expand to 34 games from 32 a year ago.
The Riverhounds rounded out the day with the news they had signed 6-foot-6 center back Joe Greenspan to a one-year deal with a team option for 2018.
Greenspan played 10 games last season for the Riverhounds on loan from MLS' Minnesota United, helping the team to four shutouts and twice earning USL Team of the Week honors. He also appeared in three matches for Minnesota, which acquired him before last season via trade with the Colorado Rapids, the team that drafted Greenspan out of the U.S. Naval Academy in the second round in 2015.