TAMPA, Fla. - USL PRO is about to become a true developmental league for Major League Soccer.
Major League Soccer (MLS) and USL PRO, which includes the Harrisburg City Islanders, has announced "a groundbreaking, multi-year partnership" that will enhance the development of professional players in North America.
The partnership will include interleague play between USL PRO and MLS Reserve League teams and the establishment of several exclusive team affiliations.
"This partnership represents the first step in a long-term alliance between MLS and USL PRO to connect domestic professional soccer through a system that benefits player development, competition and the overall business of our sport," MLS Executive Vice President of Player Relations & Competition Todd Durbin said in a statement. "Over the past several years, USL PRO has made great strides in restructuring in a manner that serves to complement the objectives of MLS. This is a win-win for all involved and it demonstrates our strong commitment to growing North American professional soccer at all levels."
Unlike other USL PRO franchises, Harrisburg has been a MLS affiliate since 2010, acting as a farm team for the Philadelphia Union.
While specific affiliations will be announced in the coming days, Harrisburg will continue to be aligned with the Union under this new agreement.
Each club affiliation will be customized to meet the needs of the respective teams, but all will include at least four players on long-term loan from the MLS parent club to its USL PRO affiliate. Those MLS teams with formal USL PRO affiliates will not participate in the 2013 MLS Reserve League.
Neither MLS nor USL PRO clubs are required to enter into an affiliation.
"USL PRO has for the past several years been the most sophisticated and competitive professional soccer league under MLS," USL CEO Alec Papadakis said in a statement. "This new partnership with MLS will elevate and strengthen the level of competition for domestic professional soccer while simultaneously creating a more sustainable financial model for team owners. 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."
Each of the 13 USL PRO teams will compete in two interleague games against MLS Reserve teams. With the exception of Antigua, which will play both of its games at MLS Reserve teams, USL PRO teams have been paired with a single MLS team to play a home and home series.
All interleague games will count in both the official USL PRO and MLS Reserve League standings.
Some information used in this story is provided by MLS.