Soccer is coming back to Bethlehem in 2016.
On Wednesday, the Philadelphia Union and USL announced that the Union have been awarded the league's 27th franchise, which the MLS side will own and operate. The expansion club will play their games at Goodman Stadium on the campus of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.
“This is another landmark day in the short history of the Philadelphia Union,” Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz said in a release. “This was a decision that we carefully studied and analyzed all possible options. In the end, we’ve chosen an extraordinarily great soccer community in the Lehigh Valley that is underserved for professional soccer. Combining our club’s culture with this amazing soccer community and the spectacular venue that Goodman Stadium provides will create an incredible environment for the growing fan base in the Lehigh Valley. By adding a USL team we ensure that our players will compete at the highest level under MLS. It’s of the utmost importance that at every level of the Union organization we challenge our players with competition in the top professional environments.”
The team’s name, crest and colors will be unveiled at a later date pending a fan vote that will open in September.
Lehigh Valley is the latest addition to USL, as the league currently sits at 24 teams during the 2015 season. Two new teams for next season have also been announced, FC Cincinnati and Rio Grande Valley FC. Philadelphia become the ninth MLS team to independently own and operate a USL club, while 11 other MLS clubs have affiliations in the league.
“We are extremely pleased to add yet another ownership group that is experienced in operating highly successful professional sports franchises to the USL family. It’s an honor to return soccer to not only one of the most historic, but also vibrant and growing markets in the US,” USL CEO Alec Papadakis said. “With sophisticated ownership and the passionate sports fans of the Lehigh Valley, this club has the formula for major achievements on and off the field.”