The USL Pro 2013 season wrapped up recently with Orlando City winning the league Championship while in regular season action the Richmond Kickers were able to go almost all season without a loss (finally fell on the last day of the season).
USL was a little different this year as MLS Reserve teams took part in regular season matches that actually counted on the overall league table.
Being the first year, things are still a work in progress but it worked out well. What ended up happening was 12 of the 14 participating MLS teams played a home and away match with a USL team. The other two (FC Dallas and San Jose Earthquakes) just beat up on an out of sorts and historically poor Antiqua Barracuda FC (no home matches for Barracuda this year).
Here is the list of MLS teams playing home and away in USL this past season: Portland Timbers, Toronto FC, Montreal Impact, Houston Dynamo, Columbus Crew, Colorado Rapids, Chicago Fire, New York Red Bulls, Los Angeles Galaxy , Real Salt Lake, Vancouver Whitecaps, Seattle Sounders.
What's interesting is that if you take the 14 teams as a group you have them playing a total of 26 games, or equal to the length of the USL Pro season.
Meaning: One can take the combined results of the MLS Reserve teams and put them on the table as if they were one (MLS not 'officially' listed on final USL table even though their results were). This should give us an idea of the the quality of both the USL and MLS.
|4||Harrisburg City Islanders||44||26||14||10||2||55||39||16||2.12||1.50||0.62|
|6||Los Angeles Blues||40||26||11||8||7||52||37||15||2.00||1.42||0.58|
|8||Dayton Dutch Lions||37||26||10||9||7||43||46||-3||1.65||1.77||-0.12|
|11||VSI Tampa Bay FC||32||26||9||12||5||41||39||2||1.58||1.50||0.08|
|13||Phoenix FC Wolves||22||26||5||14||7||28||41||-13||1.08||1.58||-0.50|
|14||Antigua Barracuda FC||0||26||0||26||0||11||91||-80||0.42||3.50||-3.08|
Down there in tenth place are the combined results of the MLS Reserve sides participating in this inaugural year of the partnership.
THERE ARE A FEW TAKEAWAYS FROM THIS
First and foremost is that there is comparable talent between USL and MLS Reserves. That's the obvious (and mildly surprising) takeaway.
2nd off is that these MLS Reserve teams are not true reserve teams like you might see in other leagues. These are senior roster (usually 15-30 depth chart) players that are way down the bench. It's not uncommon to see cap / budget hit MLS player or four (1-20) playing in reserve league action.
For example, with the Columbus Crew this year, fans in town saw 1st team players like Matias Sanchez ($190k), Bernardo Anor, Tony Tchani ($130k), Tyson Wahl ($76k), Justin Meram and Chad Barson make regular appearances in reserve.
United Soccer League's "Pro" division is listed as third tier on the US Soccer pyramid. What the results above suggest is that the line between the 1st and 3rd division might not be that wide and that, outside the top 50 (or so) MLS players, the pyramid is not a pyramid at all... more a square.
This is only the first year of the partnership and some might argue that MLS Reserve teams were more focused on working out players and new tactics. Fair enough. But if you take into account what happens in the third round of the US Open Cup and what locals here in central Ohio have seen in the rivalry between the Dayton Dutch Lions and the Columbus Crew you'll see that these are meaningful, hard fought, matches.
It is not a bad thing that the talent gap might not be that great between the top three divisions. In fact, it should be seen as opportunity.
If the talent level isn't much different between the different levels of the US Soccer pyramid then one could conclude that there are good players to be had at all levels and that search nets need not be as wide as some clubs (Toronto, Chivas, assorted bad MLS teams reaching and over paying for talent) might think.
While not listed on the final table, the results that occured between USL teams and MLS franchises counted on the final USL Pro table. The results we saw this year in the USL suggest that the answers needed to make a playoff level team just might be right under our noses. Toiling away at a competitive level. Just waiting for that chance.
Here are the 26 results betwixt USL and MLS, as I have them:
|DATE||GAME||TIME||AWAY TEAM||AWAY G||HOME G||HOME TEAM||STADIUM|
|4/7/2013||106||5:00 PM||VSI Tampa Bay FC||1||2||Portland Timbers Reserves||JELD-WEN Field|
|4/20/2013||250||9:00 PM||Harrisburg City Islanders||2||1||Colorado Rapids Reserves||Dick's Sporting Goods Park|
|4/22/2013||121||9:00 PM||Phoenix FC Wolves||0||0||Real Salt Lake Reserves||Rio Tinto Stadium|
|5/7/2013||140||10:00 PM||Los Angeles Blues||3||4||Los Angeles Galaxy Reserves||Home Depot Center|
|5/12/2013||147||7:00 PM||Orlando City||2||0||Seattle Sounders FC Reserves||Cheney Stadium|
|5/19/2013||154||11:00 AM||Charleston Battery||1||0||Houston Dynamo Reserves||BBVA Compass Stadium|
|6/1/2013||167||7:30 PM||Portland Timbers Reserves||4||4||VSI Tampa Bay FC||Plant City Stadium|
|6/7/2013||176||7:35 PM||Montreal Impact Reserves||1||1||Rochester Rhinos||Sahlen's Stadium|
|6/7/2013||173||7:00 PM||Toronto FC Reserves||1||1||Pittsburgh Riverhounds||Highmark Stadium|
|6/8/2013||177||7:00 PM||Colorado Rapids Reserves||3||1||Harrisburg City Islanders||Skyline Sports Complex|
|6/8/2013||180||7:30 PM||Columbus Crew Reserves||4||4||Dayton Dutch Lions||Beavercreek High School|
|6/8/2013||179||7:30 PM||Houston Dynamo Reserves||1||4||Charleston Battery||Blackbaud Stadium|
|6/14/2013||183||7:45 PM||Chicago Fire Reserves||1||2||Charlotte Eagles||Queens Sports Complex|
|6/15/2013||104||10:30 PM||Los Angeles Galaxy Reserves||1||1||Los Angeles Blues||Home Depot Center|
|6/15/2013||188||7:30 PM||New York Red Bulls Reserves||0||1||Wilmington Hammerheads||Legion Stadium|
|6/15/2013||187||10:30 PM||Real Salt Lake Reserves||0||0||Phoenix FC Wolves||Sun Devil Soccer Stadium|
|6/22/2013||196||7:00 PM||Vancouver Whitecaps FC Reserves||1||1||Richmond Kickers||City Stadium|
|6/29/2013||206||8:30 PM||Charlotte Eagles||2||1||Chicago Fire Reserves||Toyota Park|
|6/30/2013||207||4:30 PM||Wilmington Hammerheads||2||1||New York Red Bulls Reserves||Red Bull Arena|
|7/10/2013||226||7:30 PM||Dayton Dutch Lions||1||3||Columbus Crew Reserves||Crew Stadium|
|7/15/2013||228||10:00 PM||Antigua Barracuda FC||0||6||San Jose Earthquakes Reserves||Kezar Stadium|
|7/21/2013||238||2:00 PM||Rochester Rhinos||0||0||Montreal Impact Reserves||Saputo Stadium|
|7/23/2013||239||8:00 PM||Antigua Barracuda FC||1||3||FC Dallas Reserves||FC Dallas Stadium|
|7/23/2013||240||7:00 PM||Richmond Kickers||2||1||Vancouver Whitecaps FC Reserves||UBC Thunderbird Stadium|
|7/27/2013||251||4:30 PM||Pittsburgh Riverhounds||1||0||Toronto FC Reserves||BMO Field|
|8/11/2013||271||7:30 PM||Seattle Sounders FC Reserves||0||2||Orlando City||Florida Citrus Bowl|
Thanks for reading.