USL-Pro Clubs Unveil 3 New Affiliation Deals Ahead of MLS Preseason

Charleston Battery before their US Open Cup match vs. Real Salt Lake - USA TODAY Sports

Toronto FC partnered with Wilmington Hammerheads, Sacramento Republic FC announced a split-deal with both Portland Timbers and San Jose Earthquakes, and Vancouver Whitecaps formalized their existing relationship with Charleston Battery.

Coming on the heels of a news-heavy few weeks for MLS and ahead of the expected release of USL-Pro's 2014 schedule, a handful of clubs made public their MLS/USL-Pro affiliation deals for the upcoming season.

The four initial partnerships in the 2013 season were: New England Revolution with Rochester Rhinos, Philadelphia Union with Harrisburg City Islanders, D.C. United with Richmond Kickers, and Sporting Kansas City with Orlando City. These deals have varying degrees of success as each club had its own set of goals and expectations for the partnerships.

The 2013-14 off-season has seen a great deal of movement on the affiliation front. News and reports have seemed to come in waves ahead of the new season.

November 2013:
After reports that VSI Tampa Bay FC Flames and Antigua Barracuda FC would not participate in the 2014 season surfaced in mid-November while Los Angeles Galaxy were seriously considering the option of fielding a reserve team in USL-Pro, the off-season news cycle heated up for the third division league.
On November 26, Houston Dynamo announced a deal with Pittsburgh Riverhounds as the first new affiliation partnership for the 2014 season.

December 2013:
Dayton Dutch Lions and Columbus Crew went public with the oft-speculated affiliate agreement between the clubs on December 19. The Crew had already loaned forward Aaron Horton to the Dutch Lions in 2012 and then signed Matt Wiet as a Homegrown player after he made 4 appearances for Dayton in 2013.

On December 20, Oklahoma Energy FC announced they would be joint partners with Sporting Kansas City alongside Orlando City for the 2014 season until Orlando joins MLS itself. This announcement came the same day Oklahoma City hired former Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen as its first head coach.

January 2014:
After an already seemingly exhausting off-season Toronto FC announced on January 22 an affiliation partnership with newly re-branded Wilmington Hammerheads FC. As part of a makeover that coincides with a new majority owner, George Altirs, the club unveiled a new logo and an official name change to Wilmington Hammerheads FC. In 2012, Wilmington successfully integrated Corey Hertzog, on loan from New York Red Bulls, who went on a goal scoring tear. Toronto FC seems to epitomize the new era of MLS for me; attracting big name talent, trading for MLS role players, signing Homegrown guys, and establishing developmental paths for young talent.

The next day on Thursday, January 23, Sacramento Republic FC announced a special deal. The Northern California club finagled a unique arrangement by affiliating with two (relatively) nearby MLS clubs, Portland Timbers and San Jose Earthquakes. The agreement will see both MLS clubs send at least 2 players to Sacramento, while Timbers assistant coach (for the academy and the PDL team) will join Preki's coaching staff as well.

Vancouver Whitecaps and Charleston Battery announced an official affiliation deal after informal cooperation last season that saw the Vancouver Whitecaps send players from both the U-23 team in the PDL and the senior team in MLS to go on loan in South Carolina. Ben Fisk and Emmanuel Adjetey left the PDL squad on April 16 to join the Battery while Bryce Alderson went on loan from the senior team at the end of April; all three players remained in Charleston for the duration of the USL-Pro season. In addition, Battery defender Colin Falvey joined Vancouver's squad for a reserve league match during the 2013 season.

Vancouver also loaned forward Corey Hertzog and defender Carlyle Mitchell to FC Edmonton of the NASL in 2013 but it's unclear what this MLS/USL-Pro deal means for that other existing relationship. Here is a brief interview with Charleston Battery president Andrew Bell about the partnerhship by Dan Conover, editor-in-chief of CHSSoccer.net.

Still to be announced:
Despite several reports over the past couple months, the Los Angeles Galaxy have yet to officially announce the formation of a stand-alone reserve team in USL-Pro. The latest round of reports have revealed that if and when the Galaxy join USL-Pro, Curt Onalfo will take charge of coaching the reserve team.

The USL-Pro schedule should be announced this week. Fans have been expecting the schedule for about two weeks and the season will probably kick off at the end of March for warm-weather cities and the start of April for the rest of teams, as 2013 did.

In a radio appearance in December, Rochester Rhinos' president Pat Ercoli teased that because of a diminished number of MLS Reserve League teams, USL-Pro clubs may face different MLS teams during intraleague play. In 2013, the Rhinos faced former USL-rival Montreal Impact's reserve team home and away. Ercoli suggested that Rochester might play Montreal once and another team like the Red Bulls for its second match.

With 13 USL-Pro clubs and the imminent addition of the Galaxy reserve team, the 14 teams should play each other twice and play two games against the remaining MLS Reserve League teams for 28 total games.

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