Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber's marathon State of the League address confirmed several months of rumors that will put a smile on the faces of many North American soccer fans and young players throughout the United States and Canada. In 2011, the league will revive its Reserve Division with three six-team divisions and a double round robin within each division, making for 10 reserve matches. Reserve teams will also be free to schedule matches with non-MLS reserve teams, whether they be USSF Division 2 teams, PDL teams or anything else the club can arrange, giving players more opportunities to get necessary matches in.
MLS will also expand their senior rosters to 30 players, with six spots reserved for players younger than 25 that won't count against the salary budget. Reserve division teams will be made up of those players, players on trial or players in their respective teams' academies.
"This is a major improvement over the one we had before," Garber said.
The Reserve Division existed in MLS from 2005 to 2008, but the last two seasons have been competed without reserve matches. The original Reserve Division was full of follies with clubs not having sufficient rosters to field reserve teams, forcing teams to play ticket sale representatives in some matches in addition to other issues. However, with MLS rosters expanding to 30 players in 2011, the Reserve Division could provide the growing number of young, homegrown players to get valuable match time as well as more chances for developmental players to impress.
Many observers have spent the last two years campaigning for the return of the Reserve Division for the reason that there were not enough opportunities for players to grow and develop with the extra matches that the Reserve Division provides. Among the players who got a chance to impress in MLS because of the Reserve Division is Herculez Gomez, who performed in Reserve Division matches before moving to the Los Angeles Galaxy's senior roster and eventually on to the Mexican League where he won the Golden Boot. Chris Wondolowski, who led MLS in goals in 2010, came through the Reserve Division and two players who will start in Sunday's MLS Cup for the Colorado Rapids, Omar Cummings and Jeff Larentowicz, both came up through the Reserve Division as well.
With the Reserve Division making a comeback, the expanded MLS rosters and growth of the homegrown rule, which allows teams to sign and develop more of their young academy products, the league is clearly placing an emphasis on youth development and expanding the talent and scouting pool. Not only will this be crucial to the development of MLS, but it will also serve the US National Team well as more players who could have never gotten a look get the proper coaching and opportunity to forge a career as a professional soccer player, possibly ending in playing in the World Cup for the US as Gomez did. The revival of the Reserve Division is another piece of that puzzle as the league and country's soccer development and scouting programs continue to evolve.