[MLS] After a two-year hiatus, MLS is bringing back its Reserve Division.
The Reserve Division was terminated after four seasons of operation (2005-08), and its rebirth is designed to offer competitive opportunities for players scratching for spots on a regular game-day lineup sheet.
There will more of them in 2011, as MLS has also expanded rosters to a maximum of 30 players, which represents six additional slots to the 24-player limit in force this season.
The league has also removed restrictions on the number of homegrown players that each team can sign each season. In increasing the roster limit to 30 players, the league has mandated the six additional slots are restricted to players 24 and younger. Salaries of those players will not count against the team’s salary budget, which under terms of the collective bargaining agreement negotiated in March will be $2.67 million per team next season.
In a teleconference call Tuesday, Commissioner Don Garber outlined the Reserve Division setup: The 18 teams (Portland and Vancouver are to be added for 2011) will be split into three groups of six teams, with each team playing each group opponent twice. The top eight teams will advance to playoffs and a Reserve Division champion will be crowned. Teams are also free to schedule games independently against lower-division teams from USL-Pro and NASL, as well as foreign teams.
Flawed though it was, the previous incarnation of the Reserve Division provided playing opportunities that dozens of players utilized to launch their pro careers.
Garber cited several examples, including Best XI selections Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake) and Chris Wondolowski (San Jose’s Golden Boot winner) and Colorado star Omar Cummings as examples of successful reserve-team products. A few years ago, a young striker named Herculez Gomez used Galaxy reserve games to start his climb into the first team and from there to the U.S. national team.
“Since it began I’ve been a strong supporter of the Reserve Division and I think now the need is greater than ever,” said Kansas City technical director and head coach Peter Vermes last week, before the official announcement. “Our younger players, our rookies, and our academy players need games in a competitive environment, with standings and pressure to get points and everything else that goes with it.”
Since mandating each team field U-16 and U-18 academy teams, the league office has been besieged by requests from coaches, general managers, and other team executives to provide those players -- as well as first-team backups – meaningful playing opportunities. Changes in NCAA eligibility restrictions will allow teams to field academy players bound for college.
With rosters of 30 players, plus perhaps academy players, the days of teams scrambling to fill a reserve-game roster with local amateurs or a right back working in the team’s sales department are over. “These matches can only have players who are on the club’s roster or are on trial with the club or are members of the club’s academy,” Garber said.
Garber confirmed last month the league is considering realigning into three divisions for the 2011 regular season, along with other alignments. He did not outline the composition of the three divisions for reserve play.
Based on geography, the divisional setups could look like this:
WESTERN: Vancouver, Portland, Seattle, San Jose, Chivas USA, Los Angeles.
CENTRAL: Colorado, Real Salt Lake, Kansas City, FC Dallas, Houston, Chicago.
EASTERN: Toronto FC, New York, New England, Columbus, Philadelphia, D.C. United.
Might this, or something similar, be the league’s lay of the land in 2011? That won’t be known for a few more days, at least, yet still MLS has reshaped its future landscape.