Orlando City announced on Friday that the club’s USL side, Orlando City B, won’t take part in the 2018 season. The club will spend 2018 reevaluating its position on the reserve side, which could return in 2019 and take part in the USL’s new third division league. Each of MLS’ reserve sides will have to make the decision next season on whether to move to the USL’s developmental league or stay in the competitive current USL. But which is more beneficial for these teams?
There are four types of players that play for the MLS reserve teams: young players out of the club’s academy, players still in the academy, players sent down from the first team, and players on USL contracts. The needs for each of these types of players are very different, causing the team to adjust their setup for each of them. While all players on these teams are looking to develop, they are all in different stages. The academy players and graduates are young and are the future of the club. The players sent down from the first team are looking to play valuable minutes and earn a spot in the first team — or are returning from injury. The players on USL contracts are either just trying to continue playing professional soccer or trying to find a way onto an MLS roster.
While the current USL has an agreement with MLS, it’s a competitive league with winning and finances being more important to the independent teams than development. These teams are concerned with high attendances and profit which contrasts with the MLS-owned teams, affectionately referred to as MLS2 teams, which are less concerned with financial benefits and are more concerned with player development. This has caused a rift between the two types of teams, causing the former to claim the latter would be better suited in the new developmental league starting in 2019.
The big question is which league would better suit the MLS2 teams? As a developmental league, it would likely be a great landing spot for the 18- or 19-year-old players coming out of a club’s academy. However, because the league would be division three, the level of play will likely be quite a bit higher in the current USL (Division II in the United States). So it would likely benefit the players from the first team more to play in the more competitive league.
One concern that some have had is that the new Division III league would essentially be a reserve league, something that MLS got rid of. These fears are unfounded because of the requirements of the USL. When the league moved from D3 to D2, multiple teams dropped down to the semi-pro level PDL as the stadium and investment requirements were too much for those owners. Those teams, such as the Wilmington Hammerheads, will likely jump at the chance to move back to the third division where the requirements are much easier to manage.
It’s still unknown which MLS2 teams will stay in the USL and which will join the new third division. Several of these teams will likely join the new league as it will be much easier to fit within the requirements without much hassle and they won’t have to deal with the frustration and complaints of the independent owners unhappy with their poor attendances — a number that likely won’t improve for any of them.
One thing is certain, having a reserve team in the third division is much more beneficial to the clubs than not fielding one at all. With last week’s announcement, the future of OCB appears clear. Next year, we’ll likely see if that decision pans out.