From MLS suspension to USL president: How Paul McDonough moved on from Inter Miami

At the beginning of 2021, Paul McDonough was riding high after helping launch Inter Miami and preparing to return to Atlanta United, where he served as vice president of soccer operations. McDonough had been an integral part of one of Major League Soccer’s most successful expansion launches during his time in Atlanta. However, his success was short-lived as an MLS investigation revealed violations of the league’s salary budget and roster guidelines at Inter Miami, resulting in McDonough’s suspension through the 2022 season and his resignation from Atlanta United.

Fast forward to the end of 2023, and McDonough has found himself back in the world of soccer as the president of the United Soccer League (USL), overseeing a collection of lower-division U.S. leagues, including the USL Championship. The league had just concluded its thrilling season with Phoenix Rising securing its first title on penalties over Charleston Battery.

Reflecting on his suspension, McDonough admitted that the impact was much more significant than he had anticipated, causing his family to sell their house and relocate, all while dealing with the embarrassment of the situation. However, McDonough has now embraced his role at the USL, even considering it more meaningful than any he held in MLS.

One crucial decision that McDonough faces as USL president is an upcoming vote on instituting promotion and relegation between the USL’s leagues, a move that could redefine the landscape of lower-division soccer in the United States. While promotion and relegation presents logistical challenges, McDonough sees it as a way to bring relevance to the USL and align with the global standards of the sport.

Despite recognizing the dominance of MLS in the American soccer hierarchy, McDonough believes that the USL has a unique role to play in the country’s soccer development. Instead of directly competing with MLS, the USL aims to establish its own path with smaller budgets and local teams in smaller soccer-specific stadiums, offering an alternative that can contribute to the growth of soccer in the United States.


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