by JAKE NUTTING

Hopefully you savored this year’s heated regular season series with the New York Cosmos and the season sweep of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers because it will be the last time the Tampa Bay Rowdies face their historic rivals in NASL action.

After weeks of speculation, the Rowdies announced via a press release that they are leaving the NASL in the offseason and will join the third-tier United Soccer League for next year.

“We are excited to join the United Soccer League in 2017,” said Rowdies Owner Bill Edwards. “I have said from the day I acquired controlling interest in this club that I wanted to make it one of the most successful teams in North America. The Rowdies’ move to the USL is a positive step toward reaching the long-term goals of the club.”

Edwards’ “long-term goals” likely played a significant factor in the Rowdies leaving the NASL. As a report from earlier this year by the Tampa Bay Times stated, Edwards has told city officials in private that his ultimate amibition is to make a move to MLS. That goal would fall in line with his publicly-stated desire to expand the team’s home venue Al Lang Stadium to 18,000 seats.

Ottawa Fury FC, who the Rowdies earned a 1-1 draw against in Saturday’s home finale, are expected to join Tampa Bay in decamping from the NASL for the USL. Commissioner Jake Edwards stated at Sunday’s USL Cup final in New York that the league was set to reveal two new teams along with the previously announced Reno 1868 FC for the 2017 season.

“With our league headquartered in Tampa, we are pleased to welcome the Rowdies to the USL for next season,” said USL CEO Alec Papadakis. “This allows us to expand our footprint into the Southeast with a storied soccer brand while meeting our key tenets of market size, committed local ownership and stadium development. In Bill Edwards, we have a dedicated local owner who has invested heavily in the team’s stadium, front office and media efforts and is considered one of the marketplace’s top business and forward-thinking leaders. Bill is a renowned philanthropist and has donated significant money for children’s and veterans’ causes.”

The USL is split into Western and Eastern Conferences, with the Rowdies participating in the latter. Unlike the NASL, there are few geographic rivals for the Rowdies. Their closest opposition in the USL will be Orlando City B in Melbourne, FL.

You can watch the Rowdies play their final NASL match against Jacksonville Armada FC this Sunday on CBS Sports Network.