On Friday night, the United Soccer League (USL) announced that it had achieved its goal of being given division two status by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). The announcement ended a long campaign by the league of becoming the country’s second tier professional soccer league — a designation it currently shares with the North American Soccer League (NASL). While it may not be obvious, the change will have an impact on Orlando City’s reserve side, Orlando City B.
When players are advancing through their careers, they want to play at the highest possible level. So those that aren’t quite ready to play in MLS will look to the second division. Prior to Friday night, that second division was solely the NASL. But with this announcement, the USL will share the second division status with the younger league.
The fact that this decision was made is not much of a surprise. While the USL is flourishing through its partnership with MLS, the NASL appears to be on its last legs. Two teams, the Ottawa Fury and Tampa Bay Rowdies, switched from the NASL to the USL for the 2017 season, while San Antonio FC moved the market in the same direction.
But, while OCB is in the USL, what does this status have to do with the club? Prior to the launch of the so-called MLS2 teams, essentially reserve teams for MLS clubs, several MLS clubs had reserve teams that played in the MLS Reserve League. This system was similar to that of England, where reserve teams play outside of the country’s league pyramid. However, it was agreed that by playing in an actual professional league lower in the pyramid, like that of Germany and Spain, the young players coming through the club’s system, and those not receiving regular first team minutes, would see a greater impact on their development.
The argument makes sense. In the reserve league, the players are exclusively playing other reserve teams, with players whose aim is to make the first team. By playing in another league lower in the pyramid, the club’s players are playing much more competitive games against several standalone teams. Playing against higher level players that are older and more physically developed, and in more competitive games, will help the players develop better and faster.
Because players want to play at the highest possible level, USL teams should be able to sign better players than they did in the past. This is even truer due to the current dire situation being experienced by the NASL. While OCB won’t be signing many of these players, because the team’s roster will primarily be made up of academy graduates and first team roster players, this will increase the level of competition for the players, thereby increasing their ability to develop.
The USSF’s decision to grant the USL second division status is a long-awaited and big step for the league. It will also have a big impact for the clubs in the league, even those that are reserve teams for MLS clubs. OCB’s young stars of the future will now be playing against a higher level of competition, which will only benefit their development as they move forward. It’s a move that you could see impact Orlando City’s first team in the future.