Thursday, January 23, 2014

MLS / USL Affiliation, Critical Look

MLS / USL affiliation is making news with a few more teams joining in, taking the total up to 10 MLS teams and 10 USL.

Last year Major League Soccer corporate instructed teams to either link up with a USL Pro team or field a team of their own in the division by 2015. After a couple stabs at running a reserve league of their own MLS is trying another direction with the program.


Four teams participated in the the first year of the program and one of the relationships (KC and Orlando) saw each team winning major trophies. With this fact in mind and the the recent partnership between the Columbus Crew and the Dayton Dutch Lions I wanted to take a closer look to see what they did right.

KC handled sending players back and forth with Orlando smoothly but then something struck me when I pulled down total minutes of all roster KC players...

The affiliation means that KC lost competitive minutes for players on the team. How? Fielding a reserve team last year the Crew played a total of 14 games which makes for a total of 13860 available competitive minutes on the season.

League Games x Match Length x Positions = Total Mins
14 x 90 x 11 = 13860

With an affiliation MLS teams can send 4* (see update bottom of post) players "down" which means there is only 9360 minutes available for players down the bench.

26 x 90 x 4 = 9360

What that amounts to is nearly a 33% drop in available competitive minutes for players down the bench on MLS rosters. This also means a lot less exposure for these players. It's significant.

11 of the 34 players to be listed in a Sporting KC jersey never saw a single minute with the senior team or with Orlando.

Compare that with a total of 42 players that wore a Crew jersey in competitive matches (a healthy number of trialists) and saw competitive minutes. No Crew player on the senior squad was left without some sort of professional minutes, either in MLS or the Reserve team.

Recap: # of players without competitive mins: Crew 0, KC 11

Recap: Total players playing competitive games: Crew 42, KC 34

Columbus loses the luxury of a critical 4500 extra minutes where players can work themselves back to health, trialists can showcase or middling players can make a mark.

Last July, when MLS announced the partnership with USL, Jeff Di Veronica (Democrat and Chronicle) wrote something that has gone largely overlooked, but will play a much larger part as teams join together:

"Holt said if an MLS team needed a player, it can call one up from its affiliate even if the player is owned by the affiliate. “We’ve given the affiliates a high degree of latitude this year to do what makes the most sense for both sides,” he said."

I've reached out to MLS for clarification on who the USL team would be compensated but they refused to put me in contact with a corporate representative (I asked nicely twice) and pointed me to Alex Caulfield of my local MLS franchise.

Earlier today CHS SOCCER.NET interviewed the president of newly affiliated Charleston Battery (Andrew Bell) and asked a similar question; "Does this mean that the MLS club in an affiliation like this would have first-dibs on a player like Colin Falvey if he moves up?"

"It’s a great question. I think that that’s still a part of the affiliation process that’s in process. We still want to encourage and help as many of our players as possible to make it to the netxt level, Colin included. But the other part of it is, for this to work properly, you have to have some veteran and experienced players on the USL PRO squad, to help the younger players that are coming from Major League Soccer, and our young players, to develop as professionals. So we’re always going to have to keep an eye on the balance there."

What this tells me is that the relationship is probably like most other things MLS does in that there is this bizarre front of complete control. Loads for rules, regulations, restrictions... but when you pull back a few layers you just get a bunch of goo.

What Major League Soccer is doing here is probably the same thing any midsize company in the US does... buy out or control market competition. With USL now under the MLS wing they are at the mercy of their masters.

Reading the interview with Andrew Bell you clearly get the sense that they want to maintain a independent club feel. Unfortunately, he has put himself in the servant role here.

This is very frustrating to me as I believe things are just finally getting good in US soccer but not because soccer has finally "made it" (I've been hearing that since the 80s), no... soccer is riding the sports mad wave of live sports in the US. Week after week for the past handful of years live sports has dominated TV ratings.

MLS / USL / NASL are still last is just about every measurable category on TV and online but they are rising with the tide.

To me, it's looking more and more like USL settled for a servant type minor league role. A short term decision that they may regret as seasons go by and their teams are nothing more then the local AA Cleveland Indians affiliate.


I'll be writing more about this affiliation as it progresses (grows?) but for right now it's looking like Crew will have a number of players, like KC last year, that don't see any competitive pro time. It's a virtual no man's land. You're not off in Dayton, just practicing all year and filling in the gameday 18 when a first team player is hurt.

Which Crew players are looking to be in this no man's land this year? Guys like Brad Stuver, Tyson Wahl, Ethan Finlay, Aaron Schoenfeld, Kevan George, Eric Gehrig, Shawn Sloan.

MLS/USL PRO Partnerships:

D.C. United/Richmond
New England/Rochester
San Jose/Sacramento
Sporting KC/Orlando City-OKC Energy FC
Toronto FC/Wilmington

*Had a good discussion with Chad Hollingsworth, Ryan Kramb, Brandon Gee and William Brown for pointing out that reported rules state that an MLS team can send more than four but have yet to send more than that down at any one time. Program still in infancy.

No comments: