MLS, USL Pro Launch Partnership Establishing Team Affiliations, Interleague Play
A partnership announced yesterday between MLS and third-tier division USL Pro is a "much-needed arrangement that promises to improve MLS’ long-term player development,” according to Steven Goff of the WASHINGTON POST. The partnership this year will include interleague play between USL Pro and MLS Reserve League teams, and the establishment of several exclusive team affiliations, a move prompted by MLS’ “inadequate reserve league.” Many young MLS players for years “have languished without practical experience.” An MLS club participating in the program under the new system “will send at least four players to a USL affiliate on a long-term loan.” With only 13 USL sides, not all 19 MLS clubs will have a USL affiliate. But “remaining reserve teams will play two games against a USL club, with the results counting in the reserve division and USL standings.” DC United is “expected to partner with the Richmond Kickers and withdraw from the reserve league.” Sporting KC has “already announced a deal with Orlando City” (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 1/23). SPORTING NEWS' Brian Straus wrote, “One day, the launch of the partnership between MLS and the United Soccer Leagues might be regarded as significant a milestone in the rise of the American pro game as the advent of the soccer-specific stadium or the designated-player rule that brought David Beckham to LA.” But for now it “raises more questions than answers, and the principals acknowledge there’s more to come in years ahead.” What is certain “is that some kind of link between MLS and a minor league was necessary.” But affiliation "is not, and likely never will be, mandatory and four partnerships will be in place in 2013” (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 1/23). GOAL.com's Kyle McCarthy wrote, "Let us see how the MLS/USL PRO partnership actually functions before assessing its success or its utility. Encouraging step, though" (TWITTER.com, 1/23).