- United Soccer Leagues announced Wednesday a number of changes that will affect the Portland Timbers in 2005, including the renaming of the A-League and the elimination of conferences in favor of a more traditional, single-table format.

The two tiers of USL’s professional division will be officially referred to as the USL First Division and USL Second Division, eliminating the A-League name adopted by the then independent American Professional Soccer League in 1995.

As members of the USL First Division, the Timbers will see the adoption of a single table, the official capping of the First Division to 16 teams and the introduction of a 28-game primarily balanced schedule in which all teams play each other home and away once, supplemented with an equal number of additional rivalry games.

The preferred format of professional soccer in Europe and Latin America, the single table will eliminate the Eastern and Western conferences in favor of leaguewide standings.

The restructuring of the USL professional division has initially set the USL First Division Championship Playoffs to consist of eight teams if there are greater than 14 teams in the league and six if there are fewer than 14, which is the case in 2005 as 12 teams will participate. The two-leg, aggregate score series will continue to be used with the top two seeds receiving byes to the second round in the six-team field. The single-game championship with the host determined by a bid process between the two participants will continue to be used.

To further emphasize regular-season excellence, the regular-season champion will be awarded the Commissioner’s Cup, which was utilized by the APSL prior to the league’s merger with USL before the 1997 season.

The Timbers were the regular-season champions in 2004 with an 18-7-3 record and 57 points.

The Timbers’ competition in the top flight will include the Atlanta Silverbacks, Charleston Battery, Minnesota Thunder, Puerto Rico Islanders, Richmond Kickers, Rochester Raging Rhinos, Seattle Sounders, Toronto Lynx, Vancouver Whitecaps, Virginia Beach Mariners and the defending-champion Montreal Impact.

USL also announced that overtime has been eliminated for both tiers of the professional division for the regular season. Overtime-two 15-minute periods-will be utilized in the postseason for knock-out games and will be played in its entirety as per FIFA regulation with no golden goal.

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