Major League Soccer and USL Pro made their partnership official today. The leagues will venture into a combined effort designed to improve player development through a major revision of MLS' Reserve League model. Under the new multi-year agreement MLS Reserve teams will no longer have just ten matches between each other over the course of the season to provide an opportunity for playing time to youngsters and bench players. MLS Reserve teams will now compete in interleague play with USL Pro clubs.
MLS clubs have some options this season under the arrangement. Clubs can affiliate themselves with USL sides in a partnership that would see at least 4 players from the MLS team play for their USL partners over the course of a long term loan arrangement or clubs can choose to continue fielding a reserve squad that will participate in the cross-league competition. The Fire are not currently affiliated with a USL club and will apparently field their own reserve side this season. Most MLS clubs have chosen to keep their reserves "in-house" with only four of the nineteen teams choosing to partner with a USL Pro team in 2013.
Details and fixtures have yet to be announced but according to MLS each of the 13 USL Pro teams will play a pair of 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.
The Rochester Rhinos and New England Revolution have already announced an affiliation and Sporting Kansas City has partnered with Orlando City. DC United and Richmond, and the Philadelphia Union and Harrisburg are expected to announce affiliations soon. We'll look at what the new arrangement means for the Fire in the coming days.
Needless to say, this is a huge announcement in terms of player development and establishment of a possible pyramid system in US Soccer.
Frank Klopas addressed media today in his weekly conference call and covered several topics surrounding the first few days of preseason training. Klopas said the first phase of training will focus on fitness through through soccer specific exercises. The second phase will focus on tactical work. Part two is important for developing chemistry and cohesion and should help the Sherjill MacDonald and Chris Rolfe combination to develop and benefit from being together since day one of camp.
Klopas also discussed the club's options at left midfield with the expected departure of Alvaro Fernandez. "We're looking at different options but I feel within our group we have players that can play different spots," he said. "Alex can play wide. Guys like Chris Role have played wide at times," said Klopas while also mentioning Wells Thompson as an option at the position. The coach feels that he has players and depth with flexibility to play multiple spots but won't hesitate to make a move if the chance arises. "If there are opportunities that come about within the league or outside we're also going to look at those to," said Klopas.
Pause's role in a crowded midfield
One area that seems fairly deep is central midfield with the arrival of Jeff Larentowicz and Joel Lindpere. Most observers assume that the new pair will comprise the Fire's middle, leaving team captain Logan Pause to fight for playing time. Klopas says competition for those two spots is still open. "We felt that there were areas in the midfield that we needed to address. We brought some players in that have a lot of experience and they're very good players in this league," said Klopas of the team's recent additions.
"I think they bring something different but that's why everyone is here in camp. We have six weeks and we brought some quality players in but a lot is going to be decided in what takes place in the next six weeks," he continued. "In the next six weeks through training and through games a lot of those decisions will be answered. Logan has been a very good player but we also have other players in that spot that provide good depth and competition but also have the flexibility to play in different parts of the field in different roles and positions," said Klopas.
Bone trains in Spain
Corben Bone is in Spain for a ten day training stint with Atletico Madrid but will return for the second phase of camp and vie for a spot in the rotation according to the club. "It's up to Corben. He's a kid that has a lot of ability. He's fast, he's technical but that hasn't translated in the games," said Klopas. "He has to take those opportunities that he gets and make the best of them".
Klopas says the club remains high on Bone's ability but his success is more about confidence. "He's a player that could be a very good player in this league," he said of the former first round selection.
All three supplemental draft picks arrived in camp today.
CONCACAF announced that Soldier Field will be one of the host stadiums for Gold Cup action this summer. Schedules and dates have yet to be announced.