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MLS, USL Pro announce player development partnership

MLS Reserve teams will compete against USL Pro teams and several MLS teams have already set up affiliations.

Bright Dike is one recent example of how time in USL can help MLS players develop.
Bright Dike is one recent example of how time in USL can help MLS players develop.
Jonathan Ferrey

The long-rumored MLS partnership with the USL Pro has finally become official with a few extra details being revealed. The over-arching agreement will allow MLS Reserve teams compete against USL Pro teams in official competition. Beyond that, several MLS teams have agreed to create full-blown affiliations and will send at least four players to those teams on long-term loans.

"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 in a league release. "Over the past several years, USL Pro has made great strides in restructuring their league 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."

While it is widely expected that the relationship will expand, as of now Sporting Kansas City (with Orland City SC), the Philadelphia Union (with Harrisburg City Islanders), New England Revolution (with Rochester Rhinos) and D.C. United (with Richmond Kickers) are widely believed to be the teams who will have direction affiliations.

In the meantime, each of the 13 current USL Pro teams will play two games against MLS Reserves. Those matches will count in the standings for both the MLS Reserve League and USL Pro. Other than Antigua, who will play both of their games against MLS Reserves on the road, the teams will play each other once at home and once away.

Prior to this agreement, MLS Reserves have only played against each other in official competition. Last year, most teams played a 10-match schedule that many felt was insufficient to properly develop players who weren't getting time in league matches. On occasion, MLS teams have sent players to the lower-divisions on loan, but nothing has been nearly this coordinated.