[MLS-USL] MLS and USL PRO (the third tier of the U.S. soccer pyramid) have entered into an agreement for USL PRO teams to take on player development roles for MLS teams. Teams from USL PRO and the MLS Reserve League will meet in "interleague" play or MLS teams will enter into affiliate agreements with USL PRO teams, allowing for at least four players to go on long-term loans for the season.
In 2013, each of USL PRO's 13 teams will play a pair of interleague games against an MLS Reserve team. All will be home-and-home series, except for Antigua Barracuda FC, which will play both games at the site of the MLS team. The interleague games will count in both the USL Pro and MLS Reserve League standings.
Details of the matchups will be announced in conjunction with the forthcoming release of the 2013 USL PRO schedule, though Real Salt Lake did announce it would play FC Phoenix, one of two USL PRO expansion teams in 2013.
Each of the 19 MLS clubs will field either a reserve team or establish an affiliation with a USL PRO club.
Sporting Kansas City, the 2012 MLS Eastern Conference champion, was the first MLS team to announce an affiliation agreement, partnering with Orlando City, the 2011 USL PRO champion and 2012 regular-season champion.
Other MLS-USL PRO partnerships are expected to be announced between the following teams: New England Revolution-Rochester Rhinos, Philadelphia Union-Harrisburg City Islanders and D.C. United-Richmond Kickers.
“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,” said MLS executive vice president of player relations and competition Todd Durbin in a statement. “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.
EARLY DAYS. This isn't the first time MLS and USL have entered into a formal agreement. With the support of U.S. Soccer and Nike, MLS fielded a team in the A-League for three seasons (1998-2000).
U.S. Pro-40 had only one winning season in three years in the second level, but it served as a testing ground for young players. In MLS's early days, rosters were too small to field reserve teams.
Among the players who played on U.S. Pro-40 in the last full season were DaMarcus Beasley, Carlos Bocangeraand Bobby Convey, who all went on to play for the USA in the World Cup. Edson Buddle, Eddie Johnson and Kyle Beckerman, who have all been in the January U.S. national team camp, were selected to the team in 2001 when it made a brief tour of the Northwest.
Coaches were Tim Hankinson, former Olympic coach Lothar Osiander and Alfonso Mondelo. In 1999, Frank Yallop got his first head coaching experience taking a team to England in the fall.