By IVES GALARCEP
Major League Soccer and USL-PRO announced a long-rumored player development partnership on Wednesday that will change the MLS development landscape in a significant way in the coming years.
Beginning in 2013, USL PRO and MLS Reserve League teams will take part in interleague play while soe MLS teams will establish exclusive affiliation deals with USL PRO teams. The affiliation deals will mean MLS teams can send as many as four reserve team players on season-long loans to their USL PRO affiliates.
“This partnership represents the first step in a long-term alliance between MLS and USL PRO to connect domestic professional soccer through a system that benefits player development, competition and the overall business of our sport ,” MLS Executive Vice President of Player Relations & Competition Todd Durbin said in a league-issued statement. “Over the past several years, USL PRO has made great strides in restructuring their league in a manner that serves to complement the objectives of MLS. This is a win-win for all involved, and it demonstrates our strong commitment to growing North American professional soccer at all levels.”
What exactly will the new partnership mean for MLS teams?
All 13 USL PRO teams will compete in the MLS Reserve Division, playing two games each against MLS opponents. The MLS teams that choose to have exclusive affiliations with USL PRO teams will not take part in the actual MLS Reserve Divisions (with those teams having four or more players in season-long loans with their USL Pro affiliate.
The arrangement means younger players who can’t break through into regular first-team MLS rotations can be loaned out to ULS PRO affiliates where, in theory, they can earn regular playing time that can help them develop. Prior to this agreement, younger players who couldn’t find regular first-team minutes were reduced to playing in reserve team matches against other MLS reserve teams filled with young and inexperienced players.
In theory, the USL PRO teams should not only provide playing time for some players, they should also provide better competition in reserve league matches. Their players will have the chance to impress MLS scouts, which should provide plenty of motivation to take these reserve matches seriously.
The new project has come together quickly, leaving some teams to sit out this year from the affiliate arrangement. At least four teams are poised to take part this year. D.C. United, New England, Philadelphia Union and Sporting Kansas City (with Orlando City) are all teams expected to have USL PRO affiliations that will lead to loan deals for young players.
Several more teams are expected to establish affiliations by 2014 as the newly reconstructed MLS Reserve League set-up is formulated and teams get a better sense of how USL PRO affiliates can help MLS teams.
What do you think of this development? Excited to hear that young MLS prospects will have a chance to earn regular first-team minutes in the USL PRO? Think MS needs to do more to help develop their young talent?
Share your thoughts below.