It was a move that leaked out several weeks ago but now we finally have our first confirmed details about the partnership between MLS and USL Pro. The two leagues have agreed to a multi-year deal that will include partnerships between clubs in the two leagues as well as inter-league play between USL Pro sides and MLS reserve sides.
There is no word yet on what form this partnership will take for Toronto FC but the deal could potentially allow for the club to loan reserve players to a partner team in USL Pro to allow those players to get more playing time. TFC could end up partnering with an existing team in the league or forming their own team down the road.
What we do know is that each USL Pro team will take place in an inter-league series in 2013. All 13 teams have been paired with an MLS Reserve side and will play a home-and home series (unless you are Antigua who don't get a home game) which will count towards the standings in both leagues.
The addition of these games should help to round out the reserve league schedule. In recent years the league has taken a lot of criticism for not providing enough reserve games to help young players develop so this move is a start towards addressing that concern.
The other side of the deal is probably more important though and that is providing MLS teams with the ability to send at least four players out on long-term loans to their affiliate club. Not all clubs will enter into affiliations with USL Pro clubs, at least not in 2013, but the option is now there.
Teams that choose to form such affiliations will no longer take part in the 2013 Reserve League schedule. Each club has the option to either field a reserve league team or form that affiliation with a USL Pro club. It is not clear yet which teams will be taking which option in 2013 but reports are suggesting that there are at least a few MLS teams including Sporting Kansas City, Philadelphia Union, and DC United who all seem likely to strike partnerships.
More details on this deal will be coming out over the coming days and weeks but the initial reaction is that this is a good move for both leagues. It will increase the profile of USL Pro, hopefully expand the footprint of MLS, and help to develop some of the top young talent in the league that is not ready for regular minutes in the first team.
It looks like 2013 will be the transition year between the MLS Reserve League format and the new partnership with USL Pro but it will be exciting to watch how this all unfolds. Anything that helps players transition from the academy to the first team is good news for a team like Toronto FC that has lots of talent in the academy just looking for a better place to develop once they hit 18.
For the latest details check out the official release on MLSsoccer.com.