Philly Sports Live

From the PSL Soccer Desk: Three Point Oh

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You wouldn’t know it from the outside, but January 23, 2013 will go down as one of the most important dates in the history of soccer in the United States.  It won’t be as dramatic as the opening of the ’94 world cup, as cold blooded as the contraction of the Florida teams, or get as much media attention as the arrival of David Beckham.  You won’t even be able to explain it simply enough to complain about WIP not talking about it.  It’s a structural change, words on paper and votes in boardrooms, and the immediate effects may only be seen on teams most of you have never heard of, in the third division of a country whose top division is still considered second class.  MLS is finally, finally getting a true reserve system.

Details are still coming out, and you won’t find a better round up than Jonathan Tannenwald’s over at Philly.com.  In the short term it means to a home and away series between an MLS reserve side and a paired USL side.  In the long term what it means is USL sides, existing or soon to be created, acting as farm clubs for MLS teams, which will have the option to affiliate with an existing team, or add their reserve side to the league as a full franchise.

If you’re left wondering why that matters, think about the Philadelphia Union, the youngest team in the league, and the amount of talent sitting on their bench, with no hope of playing time with the first team.  Homegrown players like Christan Hernandez and Jimmy Mclaughlin.  Draft picks like Chandler Hoffman.  Zac Pfeffer had to go to Germany to get a game with, ironically, Hoffenheim’s reserve team.  The gap between the academy and the first team is a hole that swallows talented young players, particularly the creative types who lack the speed or physicality to survive long enough to develop at the MLS level.  A full reserve league will allow them the time to hone their skills.

This has been coming for some time.  It was first reported as a rumor last November by Jason Davis of The Best Soccer Show.  It was hinted at by increased homegrown signings of players that couldn’t possibly get first team playing time, and the slim numbers of Generation Adidas signings.  It was the logical evolution of MLS: 1.0; when teams were newly established, and played in rented stadiums in front of minivan-loads of families and youth soccer teams, and the Metro Stars couldn’t buy a title.  1.5, when the first soccer specific stadiums were built, and supporters groups turned places like RFK into dynamic environments unlike any in professional American sports, and the re-christened Red Bulls couldn’t buy a title. 2.0, when fan demand drove expansion, when a second generation of soccer specific stadiums became truly world class, and when Red Bull couldn’t buy a coach.  Today we enter 3.0, when players can be developed by their local MLS club from academy to reserve side to the senior team, when homegrown player means something outside of DC, and fans can follow a player from YSC Sports in Wayne to Reading United to the City Island out in Harrisburg to the banks of the Delaware River.

Don Garber has repeatedly said that he wants his league to be one of the best in the world.  Today MLS took a major step in that direction.

Stay with Philly Sports Live for full coverage of the MLS / USL integration as it develops.

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