American soccer writing, history & data.
The offseason before the 1998 USISL D3-Pro League season was one of consistency. The league had 39 teams in the 1997 season and the same number of teams in 1998. The Albuquerque Geckos, as 1997 D3-Pro League champions, and San Francisco Bay Seals, on the strength of being a 1997 U.S. Open Cup semifinalist, were formally promoted to the USISL A-League for the 1998 season. The D3-Pro League also lost a handful more teams due to folding or going on hiatus. But, the league added a number of teams mostly from the South and Florida.
The D3-Pro League's teams were split into seven regional divisions and played an 18-game schedule plus four U.S. Open Cup qualifiers at the beginning of the season. The D3-Pro League teams were split into eight groups for USOC qualifying (with the Atlantic Division split into the Atlantic and South Atlantic groups). The top team from each group would qualify for the U.S. Open Cup. Those eight D3-Pro League teams would meet four USISL PDSL teams and four USASA teams in the First Round of the cup.
All eight D3-Pro League teams would advance out of the First Round to meet the eight qualifying A-League teams. Only the Chicago Stingers and Orlando Nighthawks would beat their A-League competitiors. Both teams would lose to the qualifying MLS squads in the Third Round. The Chicago Stingers would lose 3-1 to the Chicago Fire and the Orlando Nighthawks would lose 3-0 to the Miami Fusion.
The USISL's strategy of expansion began to show cracks as a number of expansion teams struggled. The Pensacola Barracudas franchise was sold during the season and renamed the Pensacola S.C. Both the Tallahassee Tempest and Shreveport-Bossier Lions folded in the middle of the season due to financial difficulties.
The playoffs saw the top four teams in most divisions play in a semifinal then the winners play in a division final. Those divisional playoff winners would play in the inter-regional quarterfinals.
The Final Four was played September 12 and 13, 1998 at Del Valley High School in Austin, Tex. The host Austin Lone Stars lost 3-2 in overtime to the Phantoms of New Hampshire in one semifinal. The other semifinal saw the Chicago Stingers beat the Orlando Nighthawks 2-0. The final saw another close match with the Chicago Stingers winning the 1998 USISL D3-Pro Leage title in a 3-2 overtime match over the Phantoms of New Hampshire.
As champions, the Chicago Stingers won the right to join the A-League for the 1999 season. The club exercised an option offered by the USISL to compete in the A-League for the 2000 season. In order to prepare for the move, the Stingers decided not to play the 1999 season. The team would eventually be renamed the Chicago Sockers and join the USL PDL for the 1999 season to prepare for the 2000 A-League season.
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