For many Orlando City fans, even with Orlando City B in existence now, the USL may not be as much of an interest as they focus on Orlando City's MLS side. The USL is much different today than it was in 2014 when Orlando City played its last USL Pro season, and a recent decision by the league regarding the substitution rule has changed the league even further.
From 2011 through 2014, Orlando City played its games in USL Pro, the third division of American soccer. The Lions became the league's dominant team, winning three regular season titles and two championships during that four-year period. At that time, the league was very much independent, featuring a list of teams that had been in professional soccer since the mid-1990s. But today, it's a very different league.
The first major change in the USL came in 2013. That's when the league came to a development agreement with MLS, where teams could have partnerships with the MLS side loaning players to their USL affiliates. Orlando City's affiliate was Sporting Kansas City, which saw players like Dom Dwyer, Kevin Ellis, and Jon Kempin play the 2013 season in Orlando. While it may not have seemed like it at the time, it was a big step in the direction that the club would take going forward.
In 2014, Orlando City's last season in the league, another big step was taken, with the addition of LA Galaxy II, owned by the five-time MLS champion LA Galaxy. This was the first time that the USL had added a team that was owned by an MLS team — essentially a reserve team. So far, 11 MLS teams have followed LA Galaxy's lead and created a reserve team that plays in the USL. Orlando City joined that group in 2016 with the launch of Orlando City B.
The USL took another big step Saturday when it announced the reduction of the number of substitutes from five to three. The five-substitution rule was a nod back to the old days when soccer was attempting to be Americanized. By moving to three substitutions for the 2017 season, the USL will now be more in line with the vast majority of leagues in the world.
But is this good for the USL? On the one hand, some might consider the USL to be a more legitimate league by having rules that are more in line with the rest of the world. On the other hand, the USL is a development league with the players looking to reach the MLS level. Given how many development sides are now in the league, a number that is likely to grow, it could be argued that more substitutions is preferable for players that are in need of playing time.
Whether or not these changes to the USL are good for the league, they are making the league a far different place than where Orlando City began playing in 2011. It's even becoming much different from when Orlando City's senior team left the league just two years ago.