Gabe Hoffman-Johnson, president and founder of USL to Portland, answers questions Thursday after the United Soccer League announced that Portland is receiving an expansion team in USL League One and is expected to begin play in 2025. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

A group of investors striving to bring professional men’s soccer to Portland has been awarded an expansion franchise by United Soccer League that would begin play in 2025.

The group, known as USL to Portland, has spent more than four years building grassroots support while conducting slow but steady negotiations with the city. Its home games will be played at Fitzpatrick Stadium, pending city approval of a rental agreement. The franchise will play in USL League One, the third tier of pro men’s soccer in North America.

Portland will be the first New England team in League One, which currently has 12 teams. All of the 2023 League One games are available on ESPN+. Expansion franchises in Spokane, Washington, and Santa Barbara, California, are expected to begin play in 2024. A newly announced group in Brooklyn, New York, plans to be ready to play in 2025.

League One targets markets with population bases from 150,000 to 1 million. The Portland metro area (Cumberland, York and Sagadahoc counties) has an estimated population over 530,000, which rises to 660,000 if the Lewiston-Auburn area is included.

“This team can be a conduit for community, positivity and something to be proud of,” said Gabe Hoffman-Johnson, a founding investor and the president of USL to Portland. “There has a been a lot of work, a lot of effort, a lot of perseverance to get to this point.”

Hoffman-Johnson, 31, who lives in Portland, was a two-time All-America soccer player at Falmouth High who captained the men’s team at Dartmouth and briefly played in the USL.


He has consistently trumpeted soccer as a vehicle for bringing together Greater Portland’s increasingly diverse populations. He and founding investors Catherine and Jonathan Culley, owners of Portland real estate development company Redfern Properties, have emphasized the need to have the team play in Portland at a site accessible by foot, bicycle and public transportation.

“Fitzpatrick is the right location,” Hoffman-Johnson said.

The Portland City Council’s Housing & Economic Development Committee and USL to Portland are still negotiating the lease agreement for Fitzpatrick Stadium, said Jessica Grondin, the city’s director of communications. That committee must vote to recommend the agreement before it would go to the City Council for approval. The process will allow for public comment before the committee and the council.

A crowded room at Bissell Brothers watches a promotional video in Portland on Thursday after the United Soccer League announced that Portland is receiving an expansion team in USL League One. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Hoffman-Johnson expressed confidence the lease agreement will be approved, noting the Housing & Economic Development Committee has been “very supportive.”

Hoffman-Johnson said previous concerns about possible removal of the outdoor track at Fitzpatrick – it is staying – and sharing the venue with Portland Public Schools and other users are addressed in what will be a non-exclusive lease agreement. Further, USL to Portland has committed to privately fund facility upgrades at the 6,000-seat stadium, including increasing accessibility, adding locker rooms and renovating the dilapidated press box.

The USL to Portland ownership group includes Lewiston native Tom Caron, a broadcaster for NESN and a weekly sports columnist for the Press Herald. Caron was among a crowd of several hundred attending a Thursday afternoon media conference at Bissell Brothers Brewing in Portland to announce the new USL expansion franchise. He was joined by top league executives, state officials, members of the ownership group and throngs of supporters.


“Soccer more than any other sport brings together fans of different backgrounds, different cultures,” Caron told the audience. “The world has known this for a hundred years. Soccer’s time in the United States is now. Portland is about to become part of the fabric of the sport.”

Soccer fan Mario Moretto, 37, of Portland, attended the media conference. He is a founding member of Dirigo Union, a supporter group already established for the yet-to-be-named team. As a fan of other teams, including the New England Revolution of Major League Soccer, Moretto said the sport has helped him forge friendships and memorable moments – “the highest highs and the lowest lows,” he put it.

“But until now I’ve had to go far away to get that experience,” Moretto said. “To have a local professional team in my own community will be special.”

Gabe Hoffman-Johnson gets a high-five from Diana Nelson of Black Fly Media and publicist for USL to Portland on Thursday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer


United Soccer League began scouting Portland as a potential League One site in 2017 – two years before the league made its debut. By 2019, the USL to Portland group had well-established ties to the league.

“Portland was identified a long time ago as a really key market for us,” said Lee O’Neill, president of League One.


Major League Soccer (MLS) is the only first-tier league in the United States. USL Championship is the only second-tier league.

Hoffman-Johnson said the decision was made to begin play in 2025, as opposed to pushing for a 2024 start.

“I’m a big believer in doing things right, not rushed,” Hoffman-Johnson said.

Tom Caron, a NESN sportscaster and anchor, applauds a promotional video in Portland on Thursday. “Soccer more than any other sport brings together fans of different backgrounds, different cultures,” Caron told the audience.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

O’Neill, the league president, agreed. He said some of the league’s franchises have struggled to make a strong initial connection with their fan base.

“There’s always a runway to the takeoff and the longer the runway the easier it is to take off,” O’Neill said.

Prior to playing a game, the team will need to build a front office staff of around 18 to 20 people, Hoffman-Johnson said. League One teams typically have a 24-player roster, O’Neill said.


The club intends to host several town meeting-style gatherings to seek input from supporters before choosing a team name, colors and crest, while getting feedback on what fans want for a game-day experience.

The first of those meetings will be designed for soccer supporters at Portland Zoo, a beer garden on Fox Street, on Sept. 24. A youth soccer event at Bayside Bowl is planned for October. A local business, nonprofit and community focused gathering is targeted for November.

In 2021, the USL to Portland group presented architectural plans for two sites: renovating Fitzpatrick Stadium and building a new soccer-specific stadium on the Back Cove. Both were estimated to be $10 to $12 million projects at that time. The Back Cove site was dismissed relatively quickly, in large part because it was to be located where the ongoing sewer/stormwater project is still under construction.

Musa Abdi, 24, of Portland attends a celebration at Bissell Brothers in Portland on Thursday. “It’s an exciting time to see our city is finally getting a professional team.” Abdi said the expansion club can expect his support in the stands.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The major perceived problem with Fitzpatrick Stadium was that the artificial surface field, bounded by the city’s only outdoor track, was not wide enough to meet the USL’s minimum size of 110 by 70 yards. O’Neill said the league is willing to live with the slightly narrower field, with hopes that the franchise might be able to solve the issue in the future.


League One is a fully professional league. Players must receive a minimum base compensation, including salary, insurance and housing of $2,000 per month this season ($2,100 in 2024), paid over 10 months from February through November. Housing and insurance benefits cannot be more than half of the total compensation, per a collective bargaining agreement between USL League One and the USL Players Association, valid through 2027.


League One clubs must have at least 15 players signed to guaranteed, 10-month contracts. This year the 12 League One teams have a 32-game regular-season schedule with 16 home games from mid-March to mid-October.

Attendance at League One games varies widely but overall has increased by more than 75% since 2021. Three franchises are averaging over 3,000 fans this season. The Richmond (Virginia) Kickers averaged 4,966 fans over their first 12 games, charging $16 for general admission single-game tickets at City Stadium, which has been reconfigured from a 22,000-seat bowl to a 6,000-seat venue for soccer. Forward Madison (Wisconsin) FC, another well-established team, is drawing 4,255 per game this year, up from its league-best 3,843 average in 2022. Forward Madison single-game tickets range from $19-46 at 5,000-seat Breese Stevens Field, an eight-block walk from the Wisconsin state capitol.

At the other end of the attendance spectrum are the league’s two newest teams. Northern Colorado Hailstorm is second in the league standings and averages 1,131 fans per game, charging $8 to $33 for single-game tickets. Central Valley Fuego which plays at Fresno (California) State University’s soccer stadium, is averaging 700 fans through 10 games, with single-game tickets selling for $15 to $50.

Eric Cyr, of Westbrook, left, and Mario Moretto, of Portland, celebrate Thursday after the United Soccer League announced that Portland is receiving an expansion team. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Men’s professional soccer will join a Portland pro sports landscape that has the well-established Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, the Maine Celtics of basketball’s G-League, and the Maine Mariners in hockey’s ECHL. USL League One ticket prices are comparable to what local fans now pay for the Mariners (single-game adult tickets start at $18) and the Maine Celtics ($12 up to $100-plus for court-side seats). The Sea Dogs’ single-game tickets are $11 to $13 for adults.

Unlike the Sea Dogs, USL to Portland will not be an affiliate of a major league franchise. It will be independently owned and responsible for its own scouting and acquisition of players. Some of those players are likely to be from Maine.

“I know a handful of kids from Maine who are now in college who are good enough to play for this team,” Hoffman-Johnson said.


The Portland franchise could also be the first stop for players progressing up the international soccer ladder.

This year, 17 League One players have been called up to represent national teams. Since the league launched in 2019 more than 40 players have progressed to a higher-division club either domestically or abroad.

Heather Johnson, commisioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, speaks in Portland on Thursday after the United Soccer League announced that Portland is receiving an expansion team in USL League One. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Other soccer fans who attended Thursday’s media conference are ready to support the new Portland team. Cici Berthiaume, 25, was a standout player on two state championship girls’ teams at Windham High and played at the University of Southern Maine.

“I think it can be a success. What I hope it will be is a gathering place for everyone who loves soccer,” Berthiaume said. “Finally we have a community team we can come out and support.”

Musa Abdi, 24, a former soccer player at Deering and USM said, “It’s an exciting time to see our city is finally getting a professional team.” Abdi said the expansion club can expect his support in the stands. “Every day. All the time. I’m there.”

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