Major League Soccer’s minor-league tinkering

The rumblings are growing that MLS reserves and USL pros may soon share a league.

NASN’s Jason Davis says it looks like we’ll see some this year (2013 — I’m changing the calendar now) and more in 2014, with some MLS reserve teams going into the USL’s pro league and other MLS teams working out affiliations.

At the Sporting News, Brian Straus goes into the background of the problem — players who come out of college (or skip it) and find few chances to play.

The old-timers among us had to laugh a bit at the idea of affiliates — not because it’s a bad idea, but because we’ve seen it done before. MLS teams started with affiliates in what was then called the A-League. Yari Allnutt of my hometown Carolina Dynamo had a 1996 stat line of 1 goal in 45 minutes for Kansas City, surely close to a record for goals per minute, at least until Allnutt got a full-time MLS gig years later.)

But it wasn’t always a happy situation. A-League clubs could sometimes lose players at inopportune times. Over the years, the relationship soured.

For a couple of years, MLS operated a “Project-40” team in the A-League, immortalized in virtual print by future Real Salt Lake GM Garth Lagerwey in a pair of columns of SI.com. The idea of that team was to take all the young players (today called “Generation adidas”) who weren’t getting playing time with their MLS teams and toss them together to face the A-League pros.

So I checked in with Garth, who said this:

P-40 trips made me the man I am today, but certainly glad the league has grown since then.  If there is some pairing between MLS and one minor league or all minor leagues I would say that is good for soccer and player development.  We need a step in between Academies and MLS first teams and we need to have a viable second division with all the best non-MLS players for the highest possible level of competition to develop players.

Perhaps Project-40 and affiliations were ahead of their time. Ten years ago, MLS rosters were much smaller. The “affiliations” were less about getting playing time for reserves and more about dragging players up from the A-League on an emergency basis when injuries reduced an MLS team to 13 players or so.

Ideally, MLS clubs would all have enough players for a full reserve team. Also ideally, the USL and NASL would set aside their differences, and we’d have a sprawling second division that could be mostly regional. Also also ideally, college soccer would be a complement rather than a supposed detriment — perhaps by letting college players go on loan wherever they want in the summer instead of just to PDL or other amateur teams.

Some of those things may be beyond the scope of MLS and USL for now. But we can dream, right?

 

 

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