The worst kept secret in U.S Soccer eventually emerged today with the news that the MLS and USL
Pro would officially partner to establish a real and proper MLS Reserve league.
The following details were quoted from the USL:
“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. “Over the past several years, USL PRO has made great strides in restructuring 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.”
Each of the 13 USL PRO teams will compete in two interleague games against MLS Reserve teams. With the exception of Antigua, which will play both of its games at MLS Reserve teams, USL PRO teams have been paired with a single MLS team to play a home and home series. All interleague games will count in both the official USL PRO and MLS Reserve League standings. Details of the fixtures will be announced in conjunction with the forthcoming release of the official 2013 USL PRO schedule.
There is no doubt that this can be a tremendous step forward for developmental soccer in the USA but the fear that several USL affiliated teams may disappear from the landscape as they come under the wing of an MLS side may come to the forefront of supporters groups across the North American soccer fraternity.
The partnership will enhance the soccer pyramid though as opportunities occur for young players on the cusp of playing for their senior team and with the now defunct reserve league setup banished to history, this bold new step by both soccer organisations grows the stock of player development across the continent and will hopefully enhance the abilities, the awareness and product that currently emanates from the USL Pro teams.
Creating a proper MLS Reserve League is a real positive step towards growing the credibility of soccer in the USA. The next step would be the promotion-relegation issue that currently resides in the soccer pyramid. That’s a problem that doesn;t have a quick fix solution though and while huge financial differences remain between franchise opportunities in the various leagues, the problem isn’t likely to repair itself any time soon.
This new partnership should be seen as a brave step forward by both organisations though and with the quick announcement that MLS side Sporting Kansas City will affiliate with Orlando City, talks have already been taking place between parties within the both leagues as they scramble to join forces.
Without a USL Pro partner, the MLS teams will need to format a proper reserve team setup in order to legitimize this new formulation that has been announced. Without a MLS affiliate, the USL Pro teams could be seen as unworthy or not professional enough to warrant a MLS affiliation.
Affiliation talks are ongoing and further details will come out in the coming days but today is still a big step forward for the future of soccer in the United States & Canada and can be viewed as an inspirational leap of faith by both parties, one that should be heralded and welcomed by everyone involved in any form of soccer.
One party that could feel the downside of this is the NASL. As an organisation, they have worked hard at creating a professional second division league and sometimes compete with the USL Pro in terms of market share, players and commercial partners.
The USL Pro sides suddenly have an advantage in terms of drawing players from the professional level. Being partnered with the MLS offers players a more media aware market, offering them better opportunities to progress their careers.
There are several pros and cons for this new partnership and only time will tell how it affects everyone involved but for the soccer pyramid, this move and announcement is tremendous.
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