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MLS-USL Pro partnership flourishing, after huge crowd in Utah

Apr 23, 2013, 12:10 PM EDT

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Last night the biggest indicator yet that the new MLS-USL Pro partnership is going to be a fruitful one, surfaced in Sandy, Utah.

For RSL’s first-ever reserve league match against a USL Pro side, 8,263 fans turned up to Rio Tinto to see a 0-0 tie with the Phoenix Wolves.

(WATCH: Highlights of RSL vs. Phoenix Wolves)

The huge crowd comes after a bumper week for the lower tiers and women’s soccer in the US, where the Portland Thorns NWSL win against the Seattle Reign attracted 16,479. Staggering.

But huge attendances aside, just how closely will MLS sides be linked with lower tier teams in the future?

“I think most, if not all, MLS teams will have some kind of stand alone reserve team within two years,” RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey told the Salt Lake Tribune. “That’s my prediction. That’s my gut. As a result, we have to look at our options and what that is going to look like for us.”

So with more cohesion between MLS and the lower leagues, the level of play will only rise in USL Pro and NASL, right? Let’s hope so. Enabling players who aren’t getting any much time with their MLS squad to drop down and play for a USL affiliate is something that appeals to most clubs.

But RSL are looking at setting up their own team to send their academy players to, in order to prepare them for the step up to MLS. If other sides followed suit, we could soon see a whole host of new sides popping up at the lower end of the US soccer pyramid.

Would this hurt the already established teams in the USL and NASL? Maybe. But for the landscape of US soccer, right now, the more teams the better.

  1. charliej11 - Apr 23, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    I like to see things like this. It is easy to say we are a soccer nation because Chelsea drew 67,000 against the Sounders….but my co-worker went to that game afte buying by tickets. I don’t think he knows the offsides rule.

    These are not the casual going to see the Phoenix Wolves play.

  2. wesbadia - Apr 23, 2013 at 4:54 PM

    This is a strictly positive step for American soccer, no matter how you slice it. And especially so for the geographic side of things. Everyone knows MLS has “holes in the map”, so to speak. NASL and USL are even worse, and neither of the lower leagues have teams in any western state other than California. The entirety of the mountain region is bare, and if RSL can assist USL (and potentially NASL someday) of filling in the voids on their map, then that is hardly a negative. We’re a large country that could theoretically support two top flight leagues of 20 teams each. Many smaller markets will be clamoring for ANY level of professional soccer in the next 10 – 20 years. The only negative way this can’t be positive is if USL and NASL refuse to accept this growth, which doesn’t seem likely.

    • wesbadia - Apr 23, 2013 at 4:55 PM

      Correction to add Phoenix to that “western state” sentence. The west is still largely vacant.

  3. creek0512 - Apr 23, 2013 at 8:56 PM

    Well, MLS has a lot of teams in the West which leaves fewer markets there for lower leagues. Conversely, the Midwest and Southeast are both grossly underrepresented in MLS, so that’s where the NASL & USL teams are.

    • wesbadia - Apr 24, 2013 at 9:20 AM

      MLS does have plenty of teams in the west, but the lower tier teams don’t need very large population centers to make a market work. Proof is in my hometown of Harrisburg, PA which regularly sells out City Islander games.

      Here are just a few western cities that could theoretically support a 2nd or 3rd division franchise that don’t already have an MLS team: Boise, Riverside, San Fran, San Diego, Las Vegas, Tucson, Albuquerque, Austin, OKC, Tulsa. And that doesn’t factor in different sections of larger cities like LA or even Seattle to a point.

      I see no obstacle that would hinder growth of the lower leagues in the west other than the leagues themselves.

  4. mrtuktoyaktuk - Apr 23, 2013 at 9:30 PM

    In addition to player development, the MLS-USL Pro partnership might improve stability in lower division soccer by having a group of teams whose financial viability isn’t in question from year to year.

  5. mvktr2 - Apr 24, 2013 at 4:46 AM

    Would this hurt the already established teams in the USL and NASL?

    I think this helps, quite a bit. It’ll be interesting to see if in 5-8 years MLS reserve teams are dominating USL-Pro? If they are or are leading the way it’ll pressure the USL-Pro sides to improve. More competition is going to elevate the game which puts more fannies in the seats which is really the only meaningful widely available revenue stream for the lower tiers. I actually think going against MLS reserve sides will be a draw.

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