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MLS, USL announce Reserve League, USL PRO integration

Jan 23, 2013, 4:46 PM EDT

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A winter of rumor produced its end product on Wednesday when Major League Soccer and United Soccer Leagues established what MLS is calling “a groundbreaking, multi-year partnership,” one that will address the problem of Reserve League relevance that’s plagued the program since it was reintroduced in 2011.

Starting with the 2013 season, each Major League Soccer team can form partnership with an affiliate USL PRO club. That affiliation will see at least four players placed in the third division on a “long-term loan.” While MLS clubs are not required to enter into a partnership, those that do will forgo participation in the 2013 Reserve League.

United Soccer Leagues operate USL PRO, the 13-team league the functions as the third-tier of the U.S. Soccer pyramid. USL also operates the Premier Development League,W-League,Super-20 League and Super Y-League.

The Sporting News’ Brian Straus reports four teams are expected to form affiliations this season, agreements which “will be customized to meet the needs of the respective teams.” Twelve other Reserve League teams will play home-and-home series with a USL PRO partner, while two more reserve league teams will play USL PRO’s Antigua franchise once each.

All interleague games will count in each competitions’ standings.

One Major League Soccer team will not participate in the deal and will only field a team in the Reserve League. Specific affiliations and pairings are expected to be announced later this week.

“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 Wednesday in a statement released by the league.  “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.”

For Major League Soccer, the agreement should enhance competition for players participating in the Reserve League. Whereas before players would play a lightly-regarded 10-game schedule, now prospects can play in a more competitive environment, be that through a full third division schedule or with the enhanced competition of the home-and-homes (which can only be seen as a starting point for what will happen in the future).

For USL PRO (and the United Soccer Leagues), they get a credibility-boosting affiliation as well as a pipeline to player talent that would have previously languished in the reserve league. They also get a valuable business relationship with the Major League Soccer, one that should lead to a better on-field product.

Expect to see more from us on this deal in the coming days. For now, the news is the revamp of the MLS Reserve League, a change that forms a first of its kind link between the top and third divisions.

  1. dfstell - Jan 23, 2013 at 6:09 PM

    I think this is very cool news. I also enjoy – from a chaos standpoint – how MLS isn’t doing any of this in partnership with NASL. It seems like NASL sees themselves very differently. I wonder if that goes all the way back to their split from USL a few years ago.

    But, this will be great if it allows young players more opportunities to get on the field.

  2. jmillmac - Jan 23, 2013 at 7:51 PM

    SKC announced an affiliation with Orlando City – should we assume that ends any chance they had at bring named as the 20th MLS expansion team?

  3. drewvt6 - Jan 23, 2013 at 9:14 PM

    This is an important step for soccer in the United States. It dramatically increases the footprint of mls and lends credibility to lower tier teams. I have hoped for something similar for 10+ years.

  4. pensfan603 - Jan 23, 2013 at 9:18 PM

    Nasl has said before there goal is to overtake the MLS.
    What the mls should be worrying about foremost is trying to accept teams like the Tampa one that has their own stadium plans and has a fan base, and have them as expansion teams, instead of going overkill on this New York 20th team that isnt going to work and opening the opertunity for good markets like sacremento, tampa and the cosmos to play in the nasl division and 3rd division.

    Also ive decided the mls should get rid of chivas and try to get a team in Sacramento

    • wesbadia - Jan 24, 2013 at 9:04 AM

      One thing you have to consider about the NASL and its goal of overtaking MLS: what is one thing that most new NASL teams have said during their inauguration into the league? “We’d like to eventually play in the top flight of MLS one day. That’s our goal”.

      It seems to me that the ownership groups that NASL are bringing in don’t have the same vision for the league that the league administrators have. And that’s worrisome for the NASL in the long-term. Three teams were already taken from out of their league (Vancouver, Portland, Montreal) and no less than five of the 12 existing franchises have expressed interest in moving to MLS one day (San An, NY Cosmos, Atlanta, Indianapolis, NoVa). Whether they’re good places to expand into for MLS is another story, but it’s apparent to me that the club owner’s don’t see NASL being a D1 league in the future.

      Also, USL announced expansion into Sacramento for 2014. MLS coming to a third tier town would probably wreck a 3rd division franchise. Plenty of other good markets to expand into.

  5. mvktr2 - Jan 24, 2013 at 2:07 AM

    I hope this is truly the beginning, a seed planted, and not the destination.

    I want to know the number of games reserve league teams will play now? Does this take it from 10 to 20, or 30, or 40, or do we know?

    I’ve been anticipating this news as it could truly be something special, however this sounds slightly underwhelming. MLS needs it’s academy/reserve teams playing games and studying the game, period. That’s how the talent in the league and ultimately US Soccer are going to take the next step.

    • wesbadia - Jan 24, 2013 at 8:56 AM

      My impression is it won’t change the number of games played by much because it’s basically only a go-ahead to have an official MLS-sanctioned affiliate club that you play a home-and-home series against each reserve season. Those two games will then be counted in both teams’ standings. So add 2 to 10…

      I think the crux of the current agreement is the long-term loaning of 3 or 4 MLS reserve players to their affiliate, which gives those select players almost triple the games they’d normally see in the RL.

      It’s underwhelming, for sure, because some teams (like Philly/Harrisburg) already have affiliates with lower division teams. Others have U-23 teams in the USL-PDL. The agreement doesn’t create much movement immediately, but I consider this a baby step in the right direction. From here, it’s very plausible to see MLSRL sides being fully-integrated into the USL-Pro schedule within five years or so.

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