Last night the biggest indicator yet that the new MLS-USL Pro partnership is going to be a fruitful one, surfaced in Sandy, Utah.
For RSL’s first-ever reserve league match against a USL Pro side, 8,263 fans turned up to Rio Tinto to see a 0-0 tie with the Phoenix Wolves.
The huge crowd comes after a bumper week for the lower tiers and women’s soccer in the US, where the Portland Thorns NWSL win against the Seattle Reign attracted 16,479. Staggering.
But huge attendances aside, just how closely will MLS sides be linked with lower tier teams in the future?
“I think most, if not all, MLS teams will have some kind of stand alone reserve team within two years,” RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey told the Salt Lake Tribune. “That’s my prediction. That’s my gut. As a result, we have to look at our options and what that is going to look like for us.”
So with more cohesion between MLS and the lower leagues, the level of play will only rise in USL Pro and NASL, right? Let’s hope so. Enabling players who aren’t getting any much time with their MLS squad to drop down and play for a USL affiliate is something that appeals to most clubs.
But RSL are looking at setting up their own team to send their academy players to, in order to prepare them for the step up to MLS. If other sides followed suit, we could soon see a whole host of new sides popping up at the lower end of the US soccer pyramid.
Would this hurt the already established teams in the USL and NASL? Maybe. But for the landscape of US soccer, right now, the more teams the better.