It's finally official, Toronto FC II will be located in Vaughan and play outside the Ontario Soccer Centre. This move has been expected for quite a while now, but had not been confirmed until today. In 2013, the MLS and USL PRO announced a partnership that allows MLS clubs to have clubs run by them in the USL. These teams would be farm teams like the relationship between AHL and NHL. Last year, LA Galaxy II became the first MLS run team to compete in the USL, obviously representing the LA Galaxy. The team finished in third and made it all the way to the semi finals.
The USL is the third ranked US soccer league, behind the NASL and MLS. The USL has 24 teams as of 2015, and six of which are MLS second teams, with two more additions by 2016. Teams in the USL compete for the USL PRO Trophy and even compete with MLS teams for the Lamar Hunt U.S Open Cup.
Now, while the USL is a growing league, like the MLS, can this be a good idea for Toronto FC to get involved with? How does this benefit them? "I believe that MLS clubs with their own USL PRO teams’ in-market will be able to close the gap between academy and our first team on a number of levels," TFC GM Tim Bezbatchenko, who was present today to unveil the new club alongside head coach Greg Vanney and Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua. "This investment signifies our commitment to winning and preparing our young players, both Canadian and our draft picks to become professionals." Bezbatchenko added.
This gap being mentioned is the one that deals with the U18 to U23 players who have a difficult time adjusting from the Academy to MLS life. Before, MLS clubs would just loan out Academy graduates or put them on reserve squads so they can get the playing time they need. Now why not just use a reserve league and forget the USL? Well a reserve league wouldn't really give the players the competition they need to succeed. A league like the USL allows players much older and more experienced to challenge players that are younger and are fighting to impress their clubs. A reserve league would have U23 facing off with other U23, and a couple older ones, all playing for fitness.
Last year, TFC loaned out players like Jordan Hamilton, Quillan Roberts, and Manny Aparicio to USL side Wilmington Hammerheads to get more playing time and gain experience in a league with a lot of competition. These players have played well in their time with the Hammerheads, and have been shown a much different competition then they are use to.
"I look forward to working with these young men and aid in their growth as professional soccer players and leaders in the community." said Toronto FC II head coach, and former TFC assistant Jason Bent. Bent coached the Academy from 2008-2011, watching players go through the ranks to make the first team, and even represent their countries on an international stage.
Now, can TFC II help develop players for the Reds? Only time can tell really, but we know that having Toronto FC teams, like the Academy who competes in League 1 Ontario, a winning attitude is shown and delivered. A winning attitude that can be brought with them to the first team. Having a team that you decide who gets called up and down and how the players are being developed is a nice benefit to have. It allows a much easier process for the young careers of these players. TFC II will help ease them into the MLS and help players struggling with form or fitness the opportunity to play in a competitive league.