In a move that will hopefully pay dividends for Sporting Kansas City's young players, MLS announced today the rumored partnership between the league and the US third division, the USL-Pro. As part of the agreement, MLS teams can have partnerships with a USL side and have long term loans for at least four players with the USL side. Along with that, the 13 USL teams will play two interleague games against an MLS reserve side.
Sporting immediately came out right after the announcement between the leagues announcing that they would have a USL Pro affiliate team. KC set up their partnership with arguably the best USL-Pro team, Orlando City. The two year deal between the two sides will begin this year.
As part of the partnership, Sporting will send at least four players on loan for the 2013 to Orlando. Peter Vermes though hints at more players joining the Lions on loan though and also states that if they have to pull a player back from their loan, they will replace that player with another.
With KC setting up the partnership, Sporting will not be competing in the reserve league this year, instead using Orlando to assist them in getting games. With the USL-Pro schedule likely to be between 22 and 26 games this season, over double the 10 MLS reserve league games they got last year. And while it's a smaller number that will be competing, the games, I think, will be more competitive since it's an actual league with a goal of the playoffs and championship at the end, unlike the reserve games. The end, at least for the near term, of the Swope Park Rangers is a sad and depressing one for me, but getting more games for players is the key.
There are still questions regarding the deal and questions as to why teams would have affiliates. Like what the plans are long term for this deal. Is the hope that MLS teams will field a reserve team of their own in the 3rd division? As for the near term, there are a few questions. Vermes already answered one I had in the earlier linked article, and that's that players can be recalled from their loan. Other questions though remain. Like how those players will be reflected when it comes to the MLS roster. Will they still count against the clubs 30 man roster, or could they technically have like 34 or 36 man rosters and then just waive players when they bring guys back from their loans? Will there be any effect on the salary cap, will the USL-Pro team cover some of the salary?
There are also questions regarding why a team would choose a partnership. While some players would get more games, is that going to be better for the team's development than having 11+ players getting playing time in the reserve league? Cause that is what KC is giving up with this partnership. While 4-6 players may get 20-24 games, what about the other 5-7 players that would have played in reserve games? Players 19-24 on the roster, who don't make the game day 18 but aren't out on loan? Doesn't that hurt their development as well?
There's still a lot of questions that have to be answered regarding this. But on first glance, I like the start of this deal with the USL, I think it's a step in the right direction. But I would like to see a more detailed layout of what the plan is in 5 years, or 10 years. Even in 2 years when Sporting's deal with Orlando City expires. I do like that some of KC's younger talent, the likes of maybe Jon Kempin, Kevin Ellis, Mikey Lopez, and Soony Saad could all be getting more game time in a more competitive environment than the current reserve league.