Major League Soccer and USL PRO announced today that in 2013 they will begin a multi-year partnership regarding the MLS Reserve League and the development of players to compete at the highest levels. This first year is a step, but only a step. It will involve the creation of a handful of affiliate teams and some inter-league games between non-affiliated MLS teams and non-affiliated USL Pro teams that will count in the standings for both sides.
"This partnership represents the first step in a long-term alliance between MLS and USL PRO to connect domestic professional soccer through a system that benefits player development, competition and the overall business of our sport," MLS Executive Vice President of Player Relations & Competition Todd Durbin said. "Over the past several years, USL PRO has made great strides in restructuring in a manner that serves to complement the objectives of MLS. This is a win-win for all involved and it demonstrates our strong commitment to growing North American professional soccer at all levels."
This agreement is not one that happened quickly, nor is the 2013 system final if you read Durbin's words. Filling in the development gap for the 18 to 23 year old player is a long held goal, but one that will take more than this first shift.
At this time a few of the affiliated team agreements are official. Sporting Kansas City and Orlando City SC are partners. The Philadelphia Union and the Harrisburg City Islanders are tightening their previous arrangement. The Rochester Rhinos and New England Revolution will work together. Tomorrow it is expected that the Richmond Kickers and D.C. United will formally announce their affiliation as well.
The remaining USL PRO teams and MLS Reserve Teams will play a home and home game (unless partnered with Antigua Barracuda that will be two matches at the MLS side) in 2013. That will mean that the Seattle Sounders Reserves play two more competitive games than they did in 2012. At this time there are three returning players and three other roster players who have not played a competitive minute at the MLS level or higher.
MLS will announce the full Reserve League schedule and conference alignment "in coming weeks" per their press release.