VANCOUVER, BC – Tuesday's announcement that Vancouver Whitecaps FC are aiming to have their own USL PRO team in place for the 2015 season was welcomed as exciting news in terms of the development of their younger players and Homegrown academy prospects.
Looking at the bigger picture, Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson is already viewing the potential new team as providing options that will benefit his whole MLS squad over the course of the season.
“The MLS schedule is very interesting,” Robinson told media at training on Tuesday. “You've got to manage it correctly. You'll go through periods of the season where you'll have three, five games in two weeks and then you'll go through two or three weeks where you won't have a game.”
"This would allow us to get players minutes at certain times,” he continued. “We're able to drop a couple of players down from the MLS roster to play in the USL PRO team as well as bring up some Residency players. It'll be an important tool for us moving forward. Get everyone games, get them up to the fitness levels we require and if there are players coming back from injury that we feel are needing games, competitive games.”
The ‘Caps would be only the second MLS club to have their own USL PRO side unaffiliated with an existing team. The LA Galaxy were the trendsetters this season with the launch of their LA Galaxy II minor-league side.
The Galaxy have shown that they were not just there to make up the numbers in USL, as they currently sit third in the standings. On-field success would be welcome, but it’s the more far-reaching effects that LA's USL PRO side has had on the MLS team that has interested Robinson.
“I think you see the benefit it's had for LA this year," Robinson noted. “The Galaxy have been dropping Rob Friend, Gyasi Zardes and Robbie Rogers, people like that, to get them match minutes. Then when they come back to the first team they're up to speed and they don't take two or three games to get there. I think it will be important from that aspect.”
Robinson came through the ranks in his own playing career, starting off as a youth trainee at Wolverhampton Wanderers before breaking through to the first team and then internationally with Wales.
That level of clear progression is not there in the North American game quite yet, but Robinson feels that fielding a USL PRO team is a move in the right direction to filling that void and helping his younger players be more competitive.
“I spoke to the players and they're really excited about it because they can now see a pathway into the first team where it's not a building block they need to get over,” Robinson said. “The club have done their homework on it. It's a big decision. It's a decision that's been thought of for a long time. I think you look at the big clubs in MLS, they're all trying to do it. The reality is we want to be competing with them, we are competing with them, so it's the next stage for us.”
Michael McColl covers Vancouver Whitecaps FC for MLSsoccer.com.