Major League Soccer (MLS) announced this week a groundbreaking new partnership with the United Soccer Leagues Professional Division (USL PRO) aiming to enhance the development of professional players in North America.
As part of the structural shake-up, Whitecaps FC Reserves will take on USL PRO club Richmond Kickers in a two-match home-and-away series this coming season.
Vancouver will travel to Richmond, Virginia, to take on the Kickers at City Stadium on Saturday, June 22, before welcoming them for the return game in Vancouver on Tuesday, July 23. The venue for the match in Vancouver is yet to be confirmed.
The July 23 match could see the return of former Whitecaps FC Homegrown player Philippe Davies, who is currently plying his trade with Richmond.
The 'Caps will continue to play in the MLS Reserve League's Western division. Additionally, as per the agreement between MLS and USL Pro, the results of the two matches against Richmond will count towards the standings in both the MLS Reserve League and USL PRO. So in plain terms, these matches will matter, for both teams.
As part of the agreement, MLS clubs will also have the opportunity to either establish a formal affiliation with a USL PRO team, or to continue to have a team in the MLS Reserve League. If teams decide to enter into an affiliation they will be required to send out four MLS players on loan and will automatically forgo their team in the MLS Reserve League.
One such affiliation that has already between agreed upon is between the 'Caps USL PRO opponents, Richmond Kickers, and DC United. The two clubs - who are seperated by approximately 100 miles - had already begun their relationship. That connection saw former 'Caps striker Long Tan move on loan to Richmond to gain experience during the 2012 season.
It is hoped that in the years ahead the partnership between MLS and USL PRO will aid player development and help to better structure professional soccer in North America.
“This new partnership with MLS will elevate and strengthen the level of competition for domestic professional soccer,” USL CEO Alec Papadakis said. “As a result, we expect this partnership will forge a seamless system for the development of players and coaches, and promote the expansion of professional soccer into new North American markets.”
Whitecaps FC Reserves will benefit from additional competitive matches, especially if the integration of the MLS Reserve League and USL Pro increases over the coming years.