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MLS Loaners in USL PRO: An Unfair Advantage?

by William Brown

On January 23, 2013 the MLS and USL Pro announced that an agreement had been reached that would integrate the MLS Reserve League with USL Pro schedule. The multi-year agreement would feature inter-league play between the MLS Reserve teams and the 13 clubs in USL Pro. While 15 of the MLS team elected to stay the course with their reserve teams, four MLS clubs decided to take an alternate path. The DC United (Richmond), New England Revolution (Rochester), Philadelphia Union (Harrisburg) and Sporting Kansas City (Orlando City) entered into affiliate agreements. With the agreement the MLS clubs will send a minimum of four players to their USL Pro affiliate with the understanding that they can be recalled at any time.

The integration of the MLS Reserve League into the USL Pro schedule is nothing but a win-win for both leagues, however, the “Official Affiliate” agreement allowing four USL Pro teams access to MLS talent not so much. Is being an “Official Affiliate” of an MLS team and getting a minimum of four MLS players “on-loan” an advantage? I don’t think there’s any doubt. The data certainly supports it.

A review of the USL Pro standings as of this week shows three of the four USL sides involved in the “affiliate” program sitting at or near the top of the table. The two top teams in the USL Pro standings, Orlando City (10-1-2, 32 pts.) and Harrisburg (8-3-1, 25 pts.) prominently feature their MLS “on-loan” talent. Richmond (6-0-4, 22 pts.) sits in a tie for 4th place and is the only unbeaten squad left in the league. The lone exception to the rule appears to be the Rochester Rhinos (1-7-4, 7 pts.) sitting 12th out of 13 teams in the league.

Not surprisingly the league leading Orlando City Lions have four players on-loan from MLS affiliate Sporting Kansas City, including Forward, Dominic Dwyer; Midfielder,  Christian Duke; Goal Keeper,  Jonathan Kempin and Defender, Yann Songo’o. They have accounted for nearly 50% of the scoring in Orlando’s 13 games. In fact, Dominic Dwyer has 15 goals on the season. Dwyer and Yann Songo’o have played in over 75% of the total minutes played. Only one other player on the Orlando City roster has that kind of playing time. So we can see that the Orlando City Lions lean pretty heavily on their MLS “on-loan” talent.

The Harrisburg City Islanders also have a quartet of MLS “on-loan” talent on their roster, including Defender, Don Anding; Forward, Christian Hernandez; Midfielder, Jimmy McLaughlin and Forward, Aaron Wheeler. While Harrisburg hasn’t leaned on their group of on-loan talent in the same manner as Orlando this group has still accounted for nearly 30% of the City Islanders offensive output.

As for the Richmond Kickers, the only undefeated side in USL Pro, their MLS “loaner” talent includes, Goal Keeper, Andrew Dykstra;  Defender, Taylor Kemp; Forward, Michael Seaton; Midfielder, Conor Shanosky and Forward, Casey Townsend. While the MLS “loaners have accounted for nearly 25% of the Kickers’ offensive output, perhaps the biggest impact from the MLS talent has come from Goal Keeper Andrew Dykstra who has appeared in 9 matches has 3 clean sheets and sports a 0.888 Goals Against average.

Unfortunately the Rochester Rhinos haven’t been able to reap the benefits of having MLS talent loaner talent on their roster. Their MLS “on loan” talent includes Defender, Kevin Bilal Duckett; Forward, Matthew Horth; Midfielder, Gabe Latigue and Defender, Tyler Polack. This group has accounted for nearly 30% of the Rhinos’ limited offensive output this season.  The Rhinos have had limited success this season and recently underwent a coaching change.

While it is true that every roster in USL Pro is peppered with players that have some MLS experience there are only four that have the advantage of the direct pipeline of MLS talent. Even with Rochester struggling as a team it is apparent that the four teams involved as “official affiliates” have an advantage as the MLS “on-loan” talent accounts anywhere from 25-50% of the teams’ offensive output. In the case of Richmond where the MLS talent is contributing 25% of the offense the MLS “on-loan” goal keeper is posting some impressive numbers while making a big difference on the defensive end. In one match recently the Harrisburg City Islanders travelled to Charlotte to play the Charlotte Eagles. The Eagles were unbeaten at home and the City Islanders proceeded to win the match 4-0 with all four goals coming from the Harrisburg MLS loaner talent.

I am a firm believer in every team having a fair shot. In the past it has been fairly common for teams to get an MLS player on loan from time-to-time. Apparently those days are gone, now less than one-quarter of the league gets a direct pipeline to MLS talent. While I agree with the concept of an MLS team having an affiliate where they can send player s to get valuable playing time instead of having a talented young player languish on the bench and struggle to get valuable minutes, every USL Pro team should be afforded the same opportunity to integrate this MLS talent into their own roster.  The four sides that are affiliates also are part of the MLS Reserve League/USL Pro inter-league games as in order to keep the scheduling fair and equitable for every team in USL Pro. Unfortunately the “Official Affiliates” are limited to only four teams, not quite as equitable. There should be some way to give every team the same opportunity not just a select four.

Chad Hollingsworth
Chad has supported USL since its incarnation as USL PRO in 2011. He is dedicated to the growth of soccer in the United States. In addition to writing and podcasting for Reckless Challenge, he started a supporters group for Dayton Dutch Lions FC and obtained a USSF coaching license to help local youth.

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