Portland Timbers announced their new USL Pro team yesterday, imaginatively named Timbers 2 and abbreviated to T2 in homage to James Cameron’s Terminator sequel. They will begin play next season.
Can you remember Terminator 2?
It was the one with the strange mimetic poly-alloy-liquid-metal-killer-cyborg and that annoying child of the 90s that you just wanted to die. Somehow during the film he transformed from a little punk to a kid who was still a punk but had more life skills and was therefore now equipped to lead humanity to future post-apocalyptic freedom. Really it was all about development.
Which is exactly what Portland Timbers are after with this USL Pro team. Their young players will know how to hot wire soccer’s metaphorical ATMs. They will understand the manufacture of tactical traps and pipe bombs. They will be professional and cold leaders of the Timbers and the National Team’s future and maybe one day….. one glorious day they will melt Jürgen Klinsmann in molten steel to safeguard humanity from the harmful things that exist within his head.
We can only hope that this investment in tomorrow works, it is very much in vogue.
LA Galaxy II launched last season and Real Salt Lake, the Seattle Sounders and Portland have joined the fray in committing real resources to a secondary squad as have the Montreal Impact. On paper the benefits are profound. Major League Soccer teams can select coaching, managerial and technical staff to nurture fledgling talent, rehab injured players, and provide a place for the Claudio Bielers of this world to find their feet again. All while directing the tactical priorities, directing the fitness regimens, they can control everything.
These teams provide a fully professional environment for younger players to learn within as well as earning valuable playing competitive playing time, and the pursuit of the USL Pro Championship and US Open Cup gives them something tangible to work towards. Clubs get to benefit from an extra 20 players on the books. You don’t have to work for Cyberdyne Systems to see why this is becoming an attractive option to the more progressive clubs in MLS.
The alternative is to have an USL Pro affiliate. MLS teams loan them a handful of players and then relinquish control over when they can play and how they are deployed. The playing style of the USL Pro side and personnel that surround the loaned players are not things the MLS side can influence. This is where Sporting Kansas City are right now, and this is not to paint a poor picture of Oklahoma City FC, there is no reason to think the relationship between Sporting Kansas City and Oklahoma City FC is anything but rosy. That said, Oklahoma still are an entity of their own direction, they have a fan base they need to serve, tickets they need to sell, priorities which may be divergent from Sporting Kansas City’s. Peter Vermes can’t terminate Jimmy Nielsen if he thinks he is doing a poor job of managing their squad, or developing his players. He can’t direct the training programs.
Over the last few years TIF, bond money (and now actual public land) has been poured into Sporting Club’s ever growing and improving portfolio of facilities. A stadium, the Swope Soccer Village and the upcoming National Soccer Training Center will all be funded at least in part, and in total to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Maybe it is time for Sporting Kansas City to think about making a reciprocal step that bridges the divide between all the soccer development infrastructure that is being granted to them and the professional game in a more profound way.
At the moment Sporting Club have a dozen affiliate youth teams, members of the Sporting Club Network but the pathway from those clubs to MLS are narrow. The Portland Timbers now sport three teams in their men’s soccer system as well as an Academy system. The USL PDL is a great stopping point for kids prior and during college, the USL Pro team is pure preparation for life in an MLS and a great introduction to life as a professional.
Sporting Kansas City have the MLS squad and the academy. It’s not exactly Skynet is it?
The bridge between the two isn’t there. Once Sporting sign a player they can send him off to Oklahoma but as witnessed by the three home grown players signed since the program started the volume isn’t quite there and there certainly isn’t room within an MLS squad for extra bodies. There is no room for speculation on players.
If Sporting Kansas City are to keep pace with those at the top of the developmental pyramid, then plugging the gap between youth soccer and the professional game in a substantial way is a must. If the reality is that Sporting are going to be a team that develops young talent and sells it off to maintain forward momentum in a small market then this also seems to be a substantial piece of the puzzle.
The folk in Raytown who still do not have sewers because the money went to the Swope Soccer Village may not be appeased by the news that their sacrifice helped improve local soccer, but I as a fan would feel better about it if I felt Sporting were balancing this out a bit by spending a little cash on something other than properties. We’ve seen plenty of development of the real estate portfolio, facilities and image of Sporting Club, maybe it is time for Sporting Club to step up and invest in something real and on field that benefits the team.
Fair? I’m not sure but while I am up on my soapbox we’ll go ahead and label this Judgement Day.