Two clubs that faced off on the field at Sporting Park in 2012 will see their paths cross once again in 2013, but this time in a non-competitive manner. Sporting Kansas City and USL PRO club Orlando City SC have teamed up as official affiliates of the Major League Soccer Reserve League and USL PRO integration partnership announced on Wednesday.
While details will slowly filter out about the agreement between the two leagues - and the two clubs for that matter - here's what we know already:
- Two-year deal between clubs begins in 2013
- As an official affiliate, Orlando City will retain a minimum of four Sporting KC players for development throughout the USL PRO regular season.
- In addition to providing loan opportunities for select Sporting Kansas City reserve players, the technical staffs from both teams will pursue several strategic initiatives such as joint coaching seminars, business endeavors, scouting mechanisms and access to facilities.
The two clubs met in the third round of the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, with Sporting KC victorious en route to their Open Cup championship later that year. Sporting also spent a large portion on their preseason training in Orlando competing in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic, and will do so again this February in preparation for the upcoming 2013 MLS season.
Prior to this integration partnership between MLS and USL PRO, many players on the bottom half of the league's rosters were given few opportunities to play meaningful minutes, with early round U.S. Open Cup and sometimes unwanted CONCACAF Champions League group stage games their only chances to see true playing time. With four players from Sporting KC's reserve team being sent on long-term loan deals with Orlando City, the possibility of playing 15 to 20 games is now very real for these young, developing players.
The 2012 USL PRO season was a 24-games regular season with three-round post-season playoffs.
Sporting KC players that would likely be considered for long-term stints with Orlando City in 2013: goalkeeper Jon Kempin (0 MLS appearances), defenders Kevin Ellis (0) and Yann Songo'o (0), midfielder Mikey Lopez(0), and forwards Soony Saad (13) and Dom Dwyer (1). Determining the four players will likely be left to the discretion of the Sporting head coach Peter Vermes, given the Kansas City club's position of power as an MLS club.
Already asked about the prospective partnership, Ellis admitted to plenty of interest himself in the chance to play regularly for a first-team, week in and week out. The prospect of simply getting regular games appealed to Ellis greatly, as it would any young player hoping to impress his head coach:
"You can't stress the importance of playing games enough. That's how you get your fitness, that's how you get experience, that's how you get confidence."
While there's still many questions to be answered - will players on loan count against the salary cap, will the players not loaned have games to play, can on-loan players play against their parent club in potential Open Cup games - this looks to be a deal that will greatly aide many young players. Keeping in mind first-team depth, who would you like to see chosen as Sporting KC's four designated players to go on season-long loan to Orlando City?