By Josh Brokaw
At Sunday’s DC United Vs. Philadelphia Union game Casey Townsend was mere seconds away from stepping onto the field for the first time wearing a DCU jersey when coach Olsen changed his mind and sent him back to the bench. The 23-year-old forward has been on loan to the Richmond Kickers this season and, with just two games played, has already scored two goals for them. Many think, myself included, that it’s only a matter of time before DC calls him back up from Richmond for good. He’s just too good of a player not to be. This is great for him but what about for the Kickers? Hell, what about for the USL PRO as a whole? For better or worse, if the USL/MLS partnership keeps growing, things like this are going to become a common occurrence. From what has been said by two MLS clubs this week it looks like that USL partnership is definitely growing.
When it was announced that the MLS and USL were going to be forming a partnership a lot of focus was given to what would be happening immediately, while the long-term plans were kind of glossed over. For example, the fact that any of the MLS reserve teams can decide to fully leave the reserves league and join the USL PRO. In other words we could see any number of teams joining the USL with in the coming years. In fact, both Seattle and Real Salt Lake have publicly stated their interests in doing just that.
Minority owner/general manager Adrian Hanauer stated that the “Sounders FC will eventually have an operating partner in the USL. The city of Tacoma would be a fantastic location for us.” Note that he said ‘eventually’ and not ‘maybe’. He makes it sound like the Sounders will definitely be making their own team in the league and that it’s just a matter of time. The Sounders Reserves will be playing a game on May 12th in the city of Tacoma to test the market there and to see if it will be a good fit for this future USL PRO expansion.
While the Sounders are testing markets Real Salt Lake’s general manager, Garth Lagerwey, stated this week that “… there’s a consensus that we want a kind of farm system like the NHL or Major League Baseball, which means, at some point you’d have a stand-alone reserve team with separate staff and separate players.” Again, notice he said “at some point”. It’s not a question of if they will join, it’s just a question of when.
Some people think this is a terrible idea for USL PRO. They hear “farm league” and they shudder. Maybe they have a right to wince at the phrase though. Maybe having a league that can never keep its best players from being poached is a bad thing. Or, maybe they are overreacting. After all, the only league that isn’t a farm league is the one at the top.
I think we have to remember that the USL PRO is not a destination league. It’s a league of opportunities. It’s a league to sharpen a young players teeth on. Its job is to help players get better at their game and then to send them on their way up the US soccer pyramid. While this might not make the USL PRO the most glamorous league, being a fan of it does come with some perks.
When you have a league full of hungry players the fans win. Personally I want to cheer on a team full of players fighting for the chance to make it big. I want to see players who are giving it all out on the field because they know if they win enough balls, or shoot straight enough their lives will change for the better. We are not talking about players who are looking for a nice comfy league to spend their retirement in. We are talking about a league full of competition and passion. That’s what being a farm league can mean. When you think of it that way, who wouldn’t want to follow the USL PRO?
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below or hit me up @CharlieBlix on twitter. Thanks for reading and see you next week.