USL Pro will look quite different in 2015 given the number of MLS clubs that will be fielding their own side in the league next season. In 2014 it was just the LA Galaxy who were doing this but come 2015 there will be six other teams doing so including all three Canadian MLS clubs. Once the Vancouver Whitecaps make their USL Pro team official it will bring the total number of expansion sides joining the league in 2015 up to 12 which will nearly double the size of the league from where it was in 2014.
It was not really a well kept secret that Toronto FC were looking to be one of the MLS teams to field their own USL Pro team. They attempted to make it happen prior to the 2014 season but on a tight schedule they were forced to settle for an affiliation with the Wilmington Hammerheads after plans to put a team in Hamilton fell through. The partnership with the Hammerheads worked well for one season but has now come to an end with TFC confirming that they will have their own team in 2015.
The details on the new team are very thin at this point as the official announcement from the club only confirmed that the team will exist and begin play in 2015 and will be coached by Jason Bent. Bent, the lone holdover from the previous coaching regime, has been with the team for seven years having spent three years working in the academy before joining the first team back in 2011. His longevity is certainly the exception around TFC and it is good to see him getting the chance to take on such an important position.
Bent's experience at all levels of Toronto FC should come in handy for his new role as the USL Pro team will be primarily used to help transition players from the academy to the first team. The top academy players will go from League 1 Ontario up to the USL Pro side and then hopefully to the senior team. The addition of both of these teams in just two years should help to fill a major void in the club's development pathway and result in more players being ready to contribute when they reach the first team.
The USL Pro team should also provide valuable minutes for players at the end of the MLS roster. For a player like Ashtone Morgan or Kyle Bekker it should represent a chance for them to remain sharp and gain match fitness by allowing them to play in a competitive environment while waiting for their chance with the first team.
There will certainly be lots of questions about this team that should be answered in the coming months. The team may wind up building their own small venue somewhere in the GTA or playing out of one of the existing facilities such as the Ontario Soccer Centre. What we do know is that they will train at the KIA training group and almost certainly play somewhere other than BMO Field.
Hopefully, for the sake of originality, the team winds up with a better name that Toronto FC II. With LAG II and Seattle Sounders II already in USL Pro that is more than enough teams using that form of name. The name of the team is yet another one of those details that fans will have to wait to find out.
In the meantime while we wait for more details to come out this news is something that is worth getting excited about. The launch of a GTA USL Pro franchise means that there are now two professional soccer teams in Toronto and that is something that fans should be very happy about.