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Reserve Team, B Team - What Should MLS Do?

In the past week discussion in England has sprung up regarding the right way to handle a reserve league. The current system is somewhat similar to what MLS currently has, where the reserve teams operate outside of the league pyramid. Andre Villas-Boas, manager at Chelsea, wants the English to try to adapt their system to be more like Spain and Germany, where the reserve teams become "B" sides that operate within the pyramid.

David Moyes over at Everton actually tried to register their Reserve side in the Conference, unfortunately for his plan he would have had to start in "Division Nine of the North-West Outer Counties or whatever you want to call it." The English pyramid is so entrenched that the desire to get younger players experience in competitive games means that instead of an integrated system with reserves and independent teams at lower levels, loans must be used. Moyes' points:

"Because the games would tend to be on a Saturday or a Sunday, the young players would be able to follow the same programme as the senior ones," added the Scot. "The training week is similar and the players can do similar work. When your reserve games are Tuesday or Wednesday night it makes it difficult to follow programmes and your weekends become difficult because they (younger players) may have to come with the first team."

MLS has similar issues with its Reserves, but no entrenched history at the lower pro level. Some teams use their Reserves to keep deeper senior players fresh, while others use their 10 games to develop roster spots 21+ and get Academy players a taste of the pros. The idea of integrating Reserve teams with lower leagues in America isn't new on this site, but in light of the recent news out of England I revisited the topic with Adrian Hanauer at practice on Saturday.

One thing that is clear is that lack of stability in the lower divisions is a concern. Hanauer called it "dysfunctional." As someone who was active in USL-1 (2nd Division at the time), he saw teams come and go. Now in MLS, his eyes are from the outside looking at the NASL (8 teams in 2012) and USL Pro (11), but he recognizes "there still are a lot of good teams and a lot of good players in that sort of dysfunctional second division and third division, so that's also a good way to develop players."

That leads to some teams doing formal loans, or teams like Seattle Sounders FC nudging players whose rights they control to specific teams for seasoning. Teams still are free to use MLS' 10-game Reserve League season to develop players, keep senior players fresh or to test trialists as well.

While the MLS Reserve League has the benefit of professionalism, it does not draw crowds of any note. While at a higher level of competition than the old ad-hoc friendly system, is it doing enough to develop younger players? That question is hard to answer after just a one-year return.

Hanauer, though, made it seem apparent that he at least is aware of other ideas on how to manage that development from amateur (Academy, College, PDL) to top-flight professionals.

Our 10 games that we play in the Reserve League are, I think, a good 10 games and maybe potentially directionally [we] build on that. But there's always the possibility of some sort of affiliation with the league two, some sort of more uniform league two that sits under MLS.

Yes, more games and more important games for some of the Reserve guys is a good thing. What that looks like in the future I can't guarantee.

In just about a minute, Hanauer mentioned more loans, formalized relationships with lower divisions and an expansion of the current Reserves format. For the dozens of players cut from MLS rosters over the next two months, they'll have those same questions. What is the best way to change from prospect to player and how can they get themselves a second chance at an MLS career.

A fullon Reserve team, rather than a league scheduled around MLS games and roster usage, would help those talents bordering on being MLS ready. They would stick within the same coaching staff and playing system. It would also cost MLS more money. If those teams play against independent teams, the competitive nature of play would increase, as would the audiences. The "B" team system of Spain and Germany are a kind of hybrid between English Reserves and the baseball minor-league format.

For fans watching trialists and draftees come and go the slightly expanded rosters necessary to operate a full Reserve side wold mean that 6-10 more players would be able to be Sounders. For those players they'd know they are a single phone call away from the 18 of the senior side. MLS may not be ready for it yet, but the gap between the USSDA/Club/High School systems and regularly appearing pro needs to be filled.

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