[MLS SPOTLIGHT] As MLS clubs examine long-term player development issues, several may as soon as next season launch stand-alone teams that would play in USL PRO and serve as the homes for reserve players they now have to loan out, according to Todd Durbin, MLS's executive vice president for player relations. He also confirmed that MLS owners had approved and clubs were spending "retention funds" under what has been dubbed the "Zusi rule," to allow them to keep players who otherwise might leave the league at the end of their contracts.
Durbin told a gathering of reporters before Wednesday's All-Star Game that as many as 10 clubs could have affiliations with USL PRO clubs in 2014 and a few could have stand-alone teams. This year, four MLS teams had affiliations with USL PRO clubs.
"The strategic path," he said, "is to try to rotate away from the Reserve League such that we have players either participating in USL PRO through an affiliation or with a stand-alone team, hopefully by the end of 2015."
Those stand-alone teams could consist of a half a dozen or so reserve players not in the MLS club's game-day roster picture, plus homegrown players and other players signed to fill out the team.
"It gets them the experience to play against other professionals trying to win a championship and three points that really matter," said Durbin. "We think that will be a really crucial step."
The structure would be similar to pro reserve teams stocked with young players in Germany and France competing in the third or fourth divisions against older pros or semipros.
Durbin also confirmed that MLS owners had approved and clubs were spending "retention funds" under what has been dubbed the "Zusi rule," to allow them to keep players who otherwise might leave the league at the end of their contracts.
He said Sporting Kansas City's Graham Zusi was the perfect example of a player who was rewarded for his play with a new contract that effectively puts his salary in the range of a Designated Player. Each club is given a six-figure fund to spend on what the league terms "core players."
Durbin said MLS clubs were being criticized -- unfairly, he said -- for losing players to teams in Scandinavia. He did say the feedback the league was getting from technical staffs was that retaining young players with two or three years in starting lineups was critical to team stability.
Not all young players have re-signed with MLS. Omar Gonzalez of the LA Galaxy and Juan Agudelo of New England, whose contracts both expire at the end of the season, have both been linked with Stoke City, which already has three U.S. internationals under contract.
Core Player Deals:
Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake)
Matt Besler (Sporting KC)
Sam Cronin (San Jose)
Diego Fagundez (New England)
Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (Seattle)
George John (FC Dallas)
Juninho (LA Galaxy)
Gershon Koffie (Vancouver)
Dax McCarty(New York)
Chris Pontius (D.C. United)
Chris Schuler (Real Salt Lake)
Marvell Wynne (Colorado)
Graham Zusi(Sporting KC)