Earlier this week Major League Soccer officially confirmed the long-rumored creation of a new third division soccer league. MLS billed the league as the bridge between its youth academy league MLS Next (created after the dissolution of the USSF Development Academy structure) and the senior professional league. MLS probably don’t want you thinking about this new third division project as a reserve league, but for lack of a better term that is what it is.
Questions linger about what this means for all of the MLS reserve teams currently playing in the United Soccer League structure, particularly New York Red Bulls II, one of the most comprehensive and successful of those USL-based reserve teams. Future superstars Aaron Long and Tyler Adams led Red Bulls II all the way to a league title in 2016 and have remained an Easter Conference stalwart as USL has grown into second division status in recent years.
However, as USL has grown they have pushed back on housing reserve teams who are often uncompetitive due to them playing a large number of youth players in front of minimal fan support. Recently Red Bulls II have also started to go even younger with their squad makeup and results have dropped in the past two years. In this context, it might be easy to assume that Red Bulls II would gladly take this opportunity to drop down a level.
Currently that is not the plan. Red Bulls II head coach John Wolyniec stated in media availability this week that they plan to be in the Championship next year but he is not involved in the high level discussions regarding that. So far the Red Bull organization have been pretty strong in their belief that the best place for the team to be is the USL Championship division, currently designated as the second flight of American professional soccer.
The club known for its intensive youth development structure want even the youngest players to have the chance to be challenged against seasoned professionals. So far the results speak for themselves so it would be very hard for MLS to force them to stop a project that is clearly working, with Caden Clark becoming the latest Red Bull II graduate to be sold to Europe this week. From USL’s end they are keen to stake claim to any player who’s developmental pathway included USL so won’t be in a hurry to kick out Red Bulls, especially when they’ve only missed one playoffs in the club history and provide plenty of developmental fodder for the league to hang its hat on.
My view on it is that Red Bull will want to see what the level of the MLS league is before making any commitment in or outside of USL. If the new MLS league is a glorified U-19 league or a casual mess like the old reserve league, they won’t want to give up their spot in a USL that can still be a useful structure to integrate your MLS club with.