The Seattle Sounders Reserve team is coached by Ezra Hendrickson. He has 16 years of pro soccer and a few of those were in the lower divisions playing in Des Moines, New Orleans and Charleston. He will not face any of those teams (two are no longer pro sides), but in his role as the Reserves Coach he will face off against Orlando City in a home and home.
"It's another game for us to play against a lower division team and we get a chance to match ourselves against the guys in that league," Hendrickson said after Thursday's practice. "Any time you give our Reserve players an extra game to play when the schedule permits I think it is a good thing for us. What the Reserve guys lack is experience, the more games we are able to get them when it isn't strenuous on our schedule it is a good thing for us."
In 2012 only seven players played in half the available minutes. But, several were players who will need to contribute this year - Andy Rose, Sammy Ochoa, Mark Burch and others. Getting young players, new to the professional experience more time in competitive match situations is one of the keys to their development. One of the biggest gaps that can be filled, even just by adding two matches, is for the HomeGrown Players and current Academy players.
"The main thing is is to get the players who are at the end of the roster, the HomeGrown players as they start to get signed, to give them a place to play and get games in that intermediate jump. Sometimes it's needed between college and MLS. For the young guys coming out of college early, or the some guys that sign HomeGrown straight out of high school," Sigi Schmid told the media, "they really need that opportunity to play games. Reserve games are great, and some are competitive, but if you are actually playing in a league type of thing, now you have a competitive game with something at stake on the outcome that's a better way to produce players."
This year DeAndre Yedlin should expect to see a lot of those minutes, as well as first team play. But it is also an opportunity for the current Academy crop to show something. Last year, eleven Academy players took the pitch in a Reserve match. They will now have a greater opportunity to do so.
Only one match is certain to push the limits of the MLS roster - August 11th at Orlando. That Reserve League game is the day after an MLS match up in Toronto. Players will have their chance. That's what the lower leagues have been about for some time. Now the Reserve League fits in too.
"The USL is already a good developmental league, but it will be made even better if it is combined with the Reserve League so that better quality players play against each other every day," Alex Caskey told Sounder at Heart. "It gives the players on those teams a better chance of getting a look from an MLS team. I was lucky enough to get that, but many players aren't. They will get more exposure than they would normally get."
Caskey climbed that ladder when it was a bit more difficult to be noticed. Now players in USL PRO will be assured to be seen by at least five MLS staffs due to the four affiliation agreements. There is talent in that league. Caskey, Neagle, Alonso, Scott, Levesque, Graham, LeToux and more all came through the lower levels. They got their shot. In 2013 more movement up from non-affiliated teams should be expected just due to familiarity.
It is in 2014 when large changes could happen.
"Teams for this year have a choice. Some teams are affiliating right away and seeing how that works, other teams will continue to run reserve teams. So you can continue to run your Reserve team, you can affiliate with a team or you can run a reserve team in the USL league. We're still thinking that part through," Sigi explained, "and it is going to be Adrian's call at the end of the day as to what's best for the club."
With a rapidly maturing Academy system and Alumni that are pro quality that decision will be an important one. Its impact will not be felt by the First Team for a few years, but for the diehard fans and the players there is a potential to double the amount of matches at that level in just one year's time.