Major League Soccer and USL PRO announced today a groundbreaking, multi-year partnership that will enhance the development of professional soccer players in North America, strengthen the competition in both leagues, and establish a solid foundation for future collaboration.
For 2013, the partnership will include interleague play between USL PRO and MLS Reserve League teams, and the establishment of several exclusive team affiliations. These initial programs will immediately improve professional player development in the United States and Canada. Additional technical and commercial initiatives between the two leagues will be announced as they are finalized in the coming months.
“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. “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.”
Each club affiliation will be customized to meet the needs of the respective teams, but all will include at least four players on long-term loan from the MLS parent club to its USL PRO affiliate. Those MLS teams with formal USL PRO affiliates will not participate in the 2013 MLS Reserve League. Neither MLS nor USL PRO clubs are required to enter into an affiliation, and specific affiliations will be announced in the coming days.
Each of the 13 USL PRO teams will compete in two interleague games against MLS Reserve teams. With the exception of Antigua, which will play both of its games at MLS Reserve teams, USL PRO teams have been paired with a single MLS team to play a home and home series. All interleague games will count in both the official USL PRO and MLS Reserve League standings. Details of the fixtures will be announced in conjunction with the forthcoming release of the official 2013 USL PRO schedule.
“USL PRO has for the past several years been the most sophisticated and competitive professional soccer league under MLS,” USL CEO Alec Papadakis said. “This new partnership with MLS will elevate and strengthen the level of competition for domestic professional soccer while simultaneously creating a more sustainable financial model for team owners. As a result, we expect this partnership will forge a seamless system for the development of players and coaches, and promote the expansion of professional soccer into new North American markets.”
MLS RESERVE LEAGUE
The MLS Reserve League provides meaningful competition for players who are not regulars in the first team’s matches such as young players, players returning from injury, and youth development products. Each of the 19 MLS clubs will field either a Reserve Team or establish an affiliation with a USL PRO club. After fielding reserve sides from 2005 through 2008, Major League Soccer re-launched its Reserve League in 2011, providing essential development opportunities to players. In 2013, the conference alignment and the schedule for the MLS Reserve League will be announced in the coming weeks.
USL PRO is the strongest, best operated and most experienced North American men’s professional soccer league below MLS, both on and off the field. Focused on franchise stability and longevity, USL PRO will feature 13 teams participating in the 2013 season, including expansion teams in Phoenix and Tampa. The league is focused on aggressive but deliberate growth by adding teams fully capable of meeting USL and US Soccer standards, which are located in markets that further promote regional league play. In addition to league play, USL PRO teams will compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup as well as various domestic and international exhibitions. USL PRO is the longest-standing pro league affiliate member of US Soccer.