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My Two Cents

My Two Cents

January 19, 2014
MLS reserve and USL Pro musings

Chris Brandon Whitaker is a long-time Red Bulls fan.

By Chris Brandon Whitaker
Special to

The new MLS Reserve-USL Pro league merger is only a year away and provides lots to conjecture about, everything from team affiliations to rapid top-tier expansion into the third division. With the lull in soccer news between the MSL SuperDraft and the start of pre-season, letís take a look at future possibilities.

Almost a year ago, the MLS and USL Pro soccer leagues announced a multi-year agreement to integrate the MLS Reserve League into the third division, fully merging the two by 2015. 2014 will see the continuation of interleague play between MLS Reserve and USL Pro teams. Last year, every reserve squad played two games against a USL Pro team and hopefully the number of games will increase in 2014.

Another interesting development has been the creation of affiliations between several MLS and USL Pro teams, wherein a minimum of four MLS players are loaned to the affiliate for the duration of the third division season. The arrangement allows MLS teams to develop players who need minutes, but who are unlikely to make the starting eleven or bench of the first team. On the other side of the coin, USL Pro teams benefit from the injection of talented young players, who donít cost anything against their salary budgets.

So far, the following affiliations have been established between teams:

MLS Team -- USL Pro Team
Columbus Crew -- Dayton Dutch Lions
D.C. United -- Richmond Kickers
Houston Dynamo -- Pittsburgh Riverhounds
New England Revolution -- Rochester Rhinos
Philadelphia Union -- Harrisburg City Islanders
Sporting Kansas City -- Orlando City and OKC Energy FC

An affiliation between the Portland Timbers and Sacramento Republic is close, but not official yet.

Right away, itís easy to spot geographic closeness as a factor for affiliation between the two leagues. With Orlando joining MLS in 2015, Kansas City has decided to switch to Oklahoma City Energy FC because of proximity and news of retired Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen becoming their first head coach. Orlando City, on the other hand, is planning to set up an affiliate in one of their ownersí hometown of Louisville.

What will the other MLS teams decide in the coming year? The richest teams are rumored to have plans to field entire third division clubs for their reserve teams in 2015. The LA Galaxy may do so as soon as 2014, and the NY Red Bulls, Seattle Sounders, and Chicago Fire will launch theirs in 2015. (Letís hear it for a partnership with the local PDL team dubbed the Newark Red Bulls Express!)

Even less wealthy teams with strong academies want to set up their own USL Pro clubs, with Real Salt Lake hinting at a reserve team in San Diego, and even Dallas FC promising to field one soon. (Does this harken the return of the Austin Aztex, or will finances dictate an affiliation with the new USL-Pro team coming to nearby Tulsa, OK?)

But what about the rest? Close by geographical partnerships are tempting to project:

MLS team -- USL Pro team
Chivas USA -- Los Angeles Blues
Colorado Rapids -- Colorado Springs SC
San Jose Earthquakes -- Phoenix FC

What about the Canadian teams? As it stands there are no USL Pro teams in Canada. Maybe Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal will look to create affiliations with teams in the Canadian third division CSL. Montreal has already discussed having their reserve team play in Quebec City. (Will they resurrect the Attak moniker?)

And finally, what of the MLS expansion teams arriving in 2015 and beyond? Pockets as deep as those in New York City FC will no doubt fund an entire third division reserve team. As for Beckhamís Miami team and the Atlanta Falcons SC, they will have a pick from the three southeastern USL Pro teams in Wilmington, Charlotte, and Charleston.

Still a year away, itís something interesting to marinate on while supporters stew on the backburner of the MLS off-season hot stove.
"The opinions reflected in the My Two Cents columns do not express the views of the editors or management of BigAppleSoccer. com"
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