Beginning this season, the MLS Reserve League will no longer serve as the primary forum for the New England Revolution to develop some of its younger players.
On Monday, the Revolution announced that they have partnered with the USL-PRO Rochester Rhinos for a formal affiliation that will last through at least the 2013 season.
“We believe forming an affiliation with Rochester gives us the ability to get our players more competitive games on a regular basis,” Revolution general manager Michael Burns said in a statement. “This option allows those players who would normally see most of their action in the Reserve League to get more consistent playing time, which we believe will benefit our first team in the long run.”
As part of the agreement, the Revolution will loan out no fewer than four players to the Rhinos in 2013. Rhinos coaches are slated to accompany the Revolution staff to Tucson for next month’s Desert Diamond Cup preseason tournament to evaluate which players are best suited to join the Rochester squad.
The partnership also means that the Revolution will not field a team in the MLS Reserve League in 2013.
“There are definitely a lot of positives and as we go forward we expect there to be a lot going on between the two leagues to benefit both,” Rhinos president Pat Ercoli told democratandchronicle.com last Wednesday. “The whole concept is we help develop their players and in turn the players they’re sending to us help improve our teams.”
The concept of loaning out players to lower-division sides is nothing new for the Revolution. As recently as 2011, the club sent forward Ilija Stolica and goalkeeper Tim Murray to FC New York, which at the time was competing in USL PRO.
Other Revolution players have been sent to geographically-closer clubs like the New Hampshire Phantoms (PDL) and Western Mass Pioneers (PDL) in the past.
But under the ”groundbreaking” agreement announced on a conference call between USL PRO and MLS officials on Wednesday, the new set-up will require a stronger commitment on both sides of the partnership. And that’s just fine for a USL PRO side like the Rhinos, who see the partnership as a boon for recruiting talent.
“Now that (prospective) player has to make a decision: Do I want to be in Rochester where I’ll be seen by the MLS or to do I want to be in NASL where I might not be seen?” Ercoli said.
While the geography may pose a problem for Revolution staff to monitor the progress of their loaned players, Burns doesn’t believe it will be a huge impediment.
“There will certainly be times throughout the course of the year – say when we have a bye weekend or another kind of lull in the game schedule – when we would send one of our coaches to watch the USL games, to watch our players,” said Burns told the club website last Wednesday. “It definitely is our intent to have a coach or two watching these games whenever we can.”