MLS: Investment in USL teams begins to pay dividends

While a lot of attention has been given to the influx of players signed to DP contracts or on TAM deals, MLS clubs that launched USL second teams are beginning to get mileage out of players they promoted.

The New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams, who is starting for the U.S. U-20s in South Korea, Montreal's 18-year-old Ivorian, Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla, and Toronto FC first-year sensation Raheem Edwards are just a few of the examples of players signed from USL second teams who are having big seasons.

Almost a quarter of all minutes played by LA Galaxy players come from players it signed from LA Galaxy II, which is in its fourth season. USL signings account for more than 10 percent of the minutes played at two other MLS clubs -- the New York Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake.

USL second teams allow MLS teams to cast a wider net and sign a larger group of players than are allowed under MLS roster rules (maximum of 28 players), and MLS teams are starting to promote the best of them to their first teams, using the league's USL Priority Player rule (priority rights to up to three players from USL affiliate).

USL second teams are also important to MLS teams in smaller markets, where the pool of youth prospects is limited, and teams interested in taking flyers on young foreign talent not yet good enough to merit an international roster spot on the first team.

The trend will be for clubs to push academy players up their USL teams so they see them earlier in a pro environment. That was the case with Adams, who was still in high school when the Red Bulls first signed him to a USL contract, the Philadelphia Union's Derrick Jones, who is also representing the USA at the Under-20 World Cup, and Portland's Marco Farfan, who was still in high school when he was signed after a season with T2, the Timbers' second team.

NCAA rules allow academy players to play for pro teams as amateurs, so they don't jeopardize their potential college eligibility. Farfan initially planned on attending the University of Portland before signing with the Timbers last fall. Real Salt Lake's Jose Hernandez signed as a Homegrown player out of UCLA after playing for Real Monarchs before his freshman season.

In a few cases, USL second teams have offered young players a second chance. Jack McBean (LA Galaxy) and Memo Rodriguez (Houston) lost their MLS contracts but got them back after solid play in the USL. Veteran Chris Schuler rehabbed with Real Monarchs before rejoining Real Salt Lake.

One other factor is at work: the bottom line. The vast majority of USL signings are playing on senior minimum salaries ($65,000 in 2017) or reserve minimum salaries ($53,000) and are off-budget, i.e. not on the senior roster of up to 20 players who count against the salary cap.

LA Galaxy/LA Galaxy II (3 seasons)
990 Daniel Steres (1 goal)
464 Nathan Smith
450 Clement Diop
413 Bradley Diallo
357 Dave Romney (1 goal, 1 assist)
276 *Jack McBean (1 assist)
4 Ariel Lassiter
3 Jaime Villarreal
*Re-signed in 2016.
Total: 2,957 minutes

NY Red Bulls/NY Red Bulls II (2 seasons)
1170 Aaron Long
615 Tyler Adams
Total: 1,785 minutes

Real Salt Lake/Real Monarchs (2 seasons)
810 *Chris Schuler
341 Danilo Acosta
123 Jose Hernandez
194 Ricardo Velazco
*Re-signed in 2016.
Total: 1,468 minutes

Montreal Impact/Montreal Impact B (2 seasons-disbanded)
646 Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla  (2 goals, 1 assist)
5 David Choiniere
Total: 651 minutes

Toronto FC/Toronto FC B (2 seasons)
634 Raheem Edwards (4 assists)
Total: 634 minutes

Vancouver Whitecaps/Whitecaps FC 2 (2 seasons)
422 Alphonso Davies
90 Spencer Richey
2 Kyle Greig
Total: 514 minutes

Philadelphia Union/Bethlehem Steel (1 season)
467 Derrick Jones
Total: 467 minutes

Seattle Sounders 2/Sounders 2 (2 seasons)
398 Jordy Delem (1 assist)
Total: 398 minutes

Portland Timbers/Timbers FC 2 (2 seasons)
355 Marco Farfan
27 Victor Arboleda
Total: 382 minutes

Houston Dynamo/Rio Grande Valley FC (1 season)
121 Kevin Garcia
16 *Memo Rodriguez
*Re-signed in 2017.
Total: 137 minutes.

Sporting KC/Swope Park Rangers (1 season)
45 Tyler Pasher
Total: 45 minutes

Orlando City/Orlando City B (1 season)
3 Tony Rocha
1 Pierre Da Silva
Total: 4 minutes
mls, usl
14 comments about "MLS: Investment in USL teams begins to pay dividends".
  1. don Lamb, May 23, 2017 at 11:36 p.m.

    I have come to really appreciate nuggets like this from Soccer America. There information on this site that really tell the story of how the game is developing throughout the many organizations and levels that exist in this country in a way that no other resource does. As a response to this article, Kumar is no doubt going to double down on his assertion that USL is pointless and MLS doesn't care about player development while asking for some data to prove him wrong. When someone points out the mountain of data above, he will deny it and make up his own or find other data only to present it falsely.

  2. Quarterback TD, May 24, 2017 at 9:32 a.m.

    This is a good approach but at what stage in a soccer career 99% of USL players realize that USL is not paying dividends and it's time to move on ? The support system described is only for a few players of which I am not intrigue by any of the players I have visibly seen on the field. Also I find it very difficult to go and watch any of these games live when I can easily watch a Rec or township game for free and get the same level of proportional soccer.

  3. don Lamb replied, May 24, 2017 at 10:31 a.m.

    QB - First of that's exactly what USL is for the top players -- just a place to develop for a year or two before they "move on." Second of all, you say that you are not interested in any of the players mentioned in the article that have developed in USL, but three of them are starters on the U20 team that you say is the most talented in the world. At least a couple of the Canadians are big prospects, too. And, okay, with your last sentence you are obviously a troll that I have been duped over and over by. Jokes on me I guess.

  4. Paul Berry replied, May 24, 2017 at 11:38 a.m.

    They can play their entire career at USL level. The problem is getting Americans physically fit enough to play in a sport that involves more than 11 minutes of action every weekend.

  5. Quarterback TD replied, May 24, 2017 at 11:46 a.m.

    The problem with short thinkers like yourself is you make too many wrong analogies..The US is the best country on this planet but it does not mean we have some of the most screwed up individuals and places on the planet-- Same with the US U20 it's the best team In the competition but not the best players in the world. And yes jokes always on you and your twin Fire so learn to live with it..

  6. Joey Tremone replied, May 24, 2017 at 12:18 p.m.

    Alphonso Davies is a beast who will probably be amongst the highest transfer values the league has ever received. The international soccer market does not care whether you are intrigued by him, I assure you. (Farfan, Tabla and Adams are also strong prospects. Shoot, Adams is starting for our U20s at 18.)

  7. Quarterback TD replied, May 24, 2017 at 1:22 p.m.

    Alphonso Davies ??? Please let us know when that happens.. will be great if they can pull that off.. I looked at his statistics i just cannot justify it what are you basing that on ?

  8. Matt D replied, May 24, 2017 at 3:09 p.m.

    What I'd like to know (and maybe this helps QTD, etc.) is how does success rate of players moving up from USL to MLS compare to moving up from AAA to MLB or NBA D League to NBA etc. There's obviously a lot of people out there that play in minor leagues and hope to move up and fans and communities that support other minor leagues.

  9. Quarterback TD replied, May 24, 2017 at 4:01 p.m.

    Matt, it's professional sports so I am guessing it more or less the same. Only very few vertical movement and much more moving from the A2B team. However the true question is how many players that moves up actually become relevant.. I know Baseball probably has the most successful statistics and NBA the least..

  10. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, May 24, 2017 at 4:25 p.m.

    In baseball it depends on the level of the minors we are talking about. At low A ball, I believe fewer than 20% ever play in a MLB game but at AAA it's closer to 70%. USL reserve teams are a bridge between academy and first team as well as a place for guys on the fringes of the first team to get regular game time to stay sharp.

  11. don Lamb, May 24, 2017 at 1:32 p.m.

    Where's Kumar? Still think USL is useless? Keep in mind that this data is after only 1-2 seasons for most of these teams. The pathway to becoming a professional player is becoming clearer and more efficient every day and the development of USL is a big part of that.

  12. don Lamb replied, May 25, 2017 at 2:53 p.m.

    Kumar is MIA. Probably had the epiphany that his entire view of development in the US has been entirely wrong all this time...

  13. don Lamb replied, May 27, 2017 at 8:09 a.m.

    There are also more youth players in MLS squads. The 55% foreigners stills means that there are something like 250 American players in the league. That's a pool plenty big enough to develop players and have established players playing. Especially when USL is an option for some of them who aren't ready to play in MLS. Using the 55% in this argument is just another comprehension fail.

  14. don Lamb replied, May 27, 2017 at 6:36 p.m.

    I'll go ahead and add this to the list of things that you say you are going to get back to us about. More foreign players in the league had been a good thing as the level of the league has risen consistently as these new players have come in. It hasn't hurt the American player because it has a.) provided better teams for the established US players to play with and b.) provided better competition/development opportunities for the young players breaking in. If American youth players weren't developing, then how are we seeing more youth players in MLS, more American youth players in Europe, and more success from the youth national teams? The formula is obviously working....

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