By Kevin Koczwara
The New England Revolution announced its affiliation with the Rochester Rhinos of USL PRO on Monday, becoming the fourth team in Major League Soccer to announce an affiliation agreement with a USL PRO team since the two leagues agreed on a partnership on Jan. 23. The deal allows MLS teams the opportunity to either affiliate with a USL Pro side and loan out players or field a reserve team that would play in both the reserve league and USL Pro matches.
“I’ll start a few months ago when MLS brought to all the MLS clubs the idea that this was a possibility and talking with our coaching staff it was an avenue that we wanted to pursue. When we looked at all the USL clubs, we thought for a variety of reasons Rochester made the most sense for us to at least explore the opportunity of forming a partnership with,” said New England Revolution General Manager Mike Burns in a conference call on Monday. “They’ve been in USL a long time, they have a great reputation — they’re always very competitive. We know their coaches and the organization fairly well. When I placed the initial call to Pat (Ercoli), we were just as thrilled as they were to pursue it.”
“When Mike (Burns) called me with interest in affiliating with us, we were somewhat tickled pink in the fact that we were teaming together with an organization, a quality organization in the Kraft Family,” said Ercoli, President and Chief Operation Officer of The Rochester Rhinos. “Also, the coaches, coaching staff, the GM that we’ve known for years – at least I have and I know Jesse (Myers) has. So from that standpoint we felt that we were getting involved with a great organization.”
The new agreement between the two leagues works like this:
- The 13 USL PRO teams will compete in two interleague games against MLS Reserve teams.
- With the exception of Antigua, USL PRO teams have been paired with an MLS team to play a home and home series.
- The interleague games will count in the USL PRO and MLS Reserve League standings.
- Neither MLS nor USL PRO clubs are required to enter into an affiliation.
- MLS teams with formal USL PRO affiliates will not participate in the 2013 MLS Reserve League.
- MLS roster sizes will stay the same, 30 players, and players on loan still count against that number.
- Players will be cup-tied if they play for one team in the U.S. Open Cup, even if loaned out by a parent team.
Currently there are four official affiliation agreements. Each MLS club with an affiliation must include at least four players on long-term loan to its USL PRO affiliate — loans can vary in length and players can be recalled.
The agreement between the leagues comes at a time when player development is at a premium. MLS sides, like the Revolution, are hoping more regular game time for young players on the periphery of the first team will help them become the players the teams envision. For USL PRO sides, the move helps add more experienced and highly-touted talent to its roster that it might not have been able to acquire otherwise, and at a less of a cost.
“Personally, I think that we felt that our players maybe weren’t getting the first-team minutes that we would like,” said Revolution head coach Jay Heaps during Monday’s conference call. “They need really competitive games and there’s no better place to get that than in the USL and have real – from a competitive environment – get those games needed. I think from where we sit, it’s kind of a nice relationship to have back and forth.”
While the Rhinos and Revs have an affiliation agreement in place, it does not mean that the Revolution get first dibs when it comes to signing a promising Rhinos prospect.
“We don’t get priority on Rochester players if we wanted to sign them or bring them to MLS or to the Revolution,” said Burns. “I think that has to be very clear, and I hope that there’s not any misperception out there that that’s the case. That doesn’t just go for our relationship with Rochester – any relationship with an MLS club and a USL club is the same in that regard.”
Between now and First Kick, New England’s coaching staff expects to work closely with Rochester head coach Jesse Myers and Ercoli on which players will be loaned out.
“We’d like to have Jesse (Myers) and Pat (Ercoli) join us in Tucson for the second preseason trip we have so they can help look and evaluate our players. Then we will sit down and make some sense on who we think makes sense for both us and for them to have go on loan and play games for them,” said Burns.
The Rhinos finished second behind Orlando City in USL Pro last season with 41 points (12-7-5). Their 23 goals allowed was the second-fewest total in USL PRO in 2012 (18, Orlando City).