As it stands, each of the USL Pro teams will play a pair interleague games against MLS Reserve teams. USL Pro teams have been paired with a single MLS team to play a home-and-home series, save for Antigua, who will play both games at the site of the MLS team. The interleague games will count in both the official USL Pro and MLS Reserve League standings.
Club affiliations between MLS and USL Pro sides will be tailored to the needs of each specific team, and will include at least four MLS players going out on a long-term loan to their USL affiliate.
I think Jason Davis aptly sums up the mood in some panicky curves within American/Canadian soccer circles:
Rashly drawn conclusions that are killing me today: 1. MLS/USL-Pro integration is a bunch of nothing 2. NASL is going to die because of it.
— Jason Davis (@davisjsn) January 24, 2013
As to whether this is a big “nothing,” I think instead it’s a small but very significant “something.” A seed.
I’m a conservative when it comes to player development. Too often in American and Canadian soccer, sweeping changes to the professional set-up have ignored the possibility of building on existing leagues via simple, even nominal cooperation. While the idea of four players on a long-term loan in USL doesn’t seem like a radical boost to boosting the development of young potential stars in the US, it at least paves the way for something larger, more ambitious.
And the panic over the future of NASL? I don’t think they’re going to be knocking their knees about an inter-league reserve team table, or four MLS non-starters working a paid internship. NASL is still widely regarded as the surest means to MLS status. Few NASL presidents believe Garber will stop expansion at 20 if the league can manage it. That’s not really enough to sustain them, but who’s to say MLS couldn’t enter in a formal partnership with NASL in some capacity down the line?
Partnerships offer another subtle layer of stability badly needed in US/Canadian pro soccer. We shouldn’t take this as nothing, or a reason to panic.