Todd Durbin, MLS Executive Vice President of Competition and Player Relations and in Tampa Tim Holt, United Soccer Leagues President spoke on a conference call this morning about yesterday’s announcement of a working agreement governing a new integration between the USL Pro and the MLS Reserve League.
The conference began with a comment from Durbin.
He called it ‘an important day‘ for MLS calling the relationship as having the ‘ability to profoundly change soccer in this country‘. ‘Having a vibrant robust lower division is absolutely critical,’ he added.
It was not just about development of players, but the growth of administrators, front office staff, coaches and referees.
18 MLS teams will have autonomy to manage the new scheme with the following options:
1) Form affiliations with USL Pro Teams
2) Join with stand alone teams
3) Participate in the MLS Reserve League
One team in MLS, Chivas USA, is not participating in the scheme in 2013. Each club can choose what path it follows and Durbin was keen to stress the degree of autonomy each side will have.
For USL Pro, Holt expressed his excitement adding that USL Pro has taken steps to increase its vibrancy and stability.
He talked of players, coaches and staff developing.
The 2013 plans are merely the first stage in a growing plan and a closer partnership between the leagues.
Those MLS teams with formal USL PRO affiliates will not participate in the 2013 MLS Reserve League but each of the 13 USL PRO teams will compete in two interleague games against MLS Reserve teams.
Nearly 50 members of the press participated on the call and the Q & A provided more details.
Durbin added that financially the salary issues and roster sizes are managed centrally, so there is no gain fielding a reserve team or an affiliate.
He hoped over time a fully integrated model would emerge where existing reserve teams play a whole regular season in USL Pro. The next 12-24 months are transitional.
Holt took on the issue of travel costs for USL Pro teams having to travel to the northwest. Holt said they saw the big picture but would build matches onto existing trips. He added that USL Pro teams saw the upside of association with MLS sides and that growth would lead to new clubs and eventually a regional league.
Durbin said teams will announce new affiliations themselves shortly so there was no new information from MLS to come.
Geographical limit on affiliations will be what makes most sense. Proximity was a ‘significant factor’, and it was highly unlikely that a team in the PNW would link with a team in the South East.
Other factors would be the ‘type of relationship’ ie a more integrated commercial relationship could seal a deal if proximity was absent, the level of commitment, and the stature of the overall business deal.
Both ducked the topic of future NASL involvement.
Any MLS stand alone in USL Pro would be a combination of USL players and MLS Loan Players from the MLS club’s 30 man roster. Holt said that USL Pro is not seeking to become the US Soccer sanctioned second division. It’s not their focus. It is to strengthen the league.
Players in USOC get cup tied and cannot switch teams. Clubs can play their affiliates.
To start a stand alone team, Holt said USL Pro will insist on a high level quality of control, a properly capitalised ownership group, belief in the model, a market for pro soccer, a viable short term venue, a way to build a base in that market, especially where there is potential to become a MLS market.
The USL Pro schedule will be out later today.