with all of the drama surrounding the cascadia cup heist and the opening week of pre-season drills the fact the mls made steps towards improving the quality of the league went largely unnoticed. or perhaps, and likely the most logical explanation to the absent conversation regarding the announcement of the new reserve league, no one really knows how it will be installed and regulated to the point of being meaningful and therefore no one cared. alright, that really is not fair but it is not far off the reality.
as we discussed in a post a few weeks ago, the mls and the usl pro leagues have partnered up to create a reserve league. the mls teams will provide either their own side or inject reserve talent into an affiliated usl pro side on a permanent basis. the league will run from april through the middle of august, with 26 total games to be played. does that mean the timbers reserves will play 26 games this next season like a true reserve league? no. they play 2. here are the proposed terms of play:
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. (full article here)
hopefully those 2 games are in addition to the other scheduled matches to be played amongst mls reserve teams. if not, this league is already a slim shadow of what i had anticipated and really draws great concerns from my inner monologue. if the purpose of the league is to improve the quality of play by providing needed minutes for fringe players i am not certain that 2 games effectively satisfies let alone accomplishes that goal. there are only a few reasons for players to remain in the reserve squad rather than moving into the first team and typically they are punctuated by a lack of playing time. games, not the promise of games, but games are needed for players to improve. if you do not believe me, read what our boss had to say:
We have young players on this team that won’t necessarily be ready to play first-team games, but they will in the long run as long if we cultivate them properly. The reserve league is certainly one avenue, but if we can form a relationship with USL teams to be able to loan players out that’s going to help even further.
if there is a person who knows player development, particularly development within the youth ranks, it would be porter.
and it should not be forgotten (and it really is not, that was just a colloquialism or trite turn of phrase to segue into a new subtopic) that last season we did see in dike's play the benefits of extended first team opportunities through a loan spell in the final months of the 2012 season. sure, dike is not a world beater and will never light the footballing world on fire, but he sure lit up the catalonians this last month. and his goal return for the last few months of the season was respectable given the number of games he actually played. obviously, the number of games available to dike through the reserve games were not considered sufficient to increase his effectiveness. that may be a comment on the coaching staff's assessment of dike's overall skill level, but it certainly indicates the number of reserve games was deficient.
i have argued, and will still argue, that the best solution to the this reserve league question is not to combine leagues for a pathetic 2 games but to have the reserves play other reserves as the first teams play. it is a simple fix. all it would take would be scheduling a reserve match following the scheduled first team game. problem solved--the reserves would get 34 games a season (38 when mls decides to grow up and not play a ridiculous and laughable unbalanced schedule) and the league would improve immeasurably.
one thing is clear, the league and the teams recognize the necessity for providing a place for younger, inexperienced players to learn the craft of professional football. and there are success stories. on second thought, if we have to look forward to more chris wondolowskis and jeff larentowitcz's then i say shut the system down now.
ultimately, the advantages of the new reserve league or any reserve league extend beyond just improving the fringe players, it also pushes the regular starters to reach a high level of consistency. last september there were several articles written about the return of players from loan spells and the singular answer most of the coaches interviewed had in response to a loan was that the loan improved the player as well as placed pressure on the starters. that is the key, especially in a side like portland where there exists a culture, or did exist a culture, of guaranteed spots for mediocre starters. mediocrity should never be rewarded but often is when the players behind the starters are not ready to succeed. this new proposal is a step towards fixing that issue.
there it is: your friday helping of the axe.