With the announcement of Nashville FC to begin play in USL in 2018, it got me really thinking about whether this is good or not for SKC and SPR. Obviously my initial reaction was that it was awesome to see the "third tier of American soccer" growing. Being a huge American soccer nut I love to see the leagues in America growing, and I think ever since the 2012 World Cup we have really seen that.
I think there has also been this huge push in the last few years to really bridge the gap in development between academies and MLS first teams. If you look over in England most players don't make immediate jumps from say Manchester United's U18 academy side to the first team. Those players usually go on loan to a team in the lower divisions to get experience on a professional stage (very similar to the way American baseball minor leagues work). I think the move by MLS to require MLS teams to have a USL affiliate was a smart move in order to help the development of our young players. This is what lead to my thinking of how Nashville FC might actually hurt Sporting Kansas City and Swope Park Rangers.
Let's look at Ezra Armstrong for example. Armstrong at just 17 years old has already appeared with Swope Park Rangers. He is a great example of the vast Sporting Kansas City academy network that reaches all the way from Wichita to Indiana, which includes Armstrong's home of Nashville Tennessee. Imagine if NFC had been around when Armstrong was growing up and he had attended games. Imagine NFC coaches hearing of this local kid that was doing amazing things at his local youth club. I have to imagine that it would be pretty attractive to Armstrong to stay and play for his hometown team, rather than leave his family and friends to come all the way to Kansas City for the opportunity to play professionally. I wonder if this is why SKC has no club affiliates in Oklahoma. Consider if Tulsa Roughnecks FC were not in place. Sporting KC might have gotten ahold of players like Bryce Taylor or Christian Mata, but instead they are now playing for their hometown team Roughnecks FC.
Don't get me wrong. I absolutely love to see he sport of soccer growing in the America, and love to see USL expanding. I more importantly love to see another USL team come in to our region. One of the things that I admire most about USL is the fact that there are so many teams in close proximity, making for some great regional play. I wish Sporting Kansas City had more teams closer to them, like SPR does so that you could have more away fan travel (although I must say the Cauldron does travel well). I just wonder with St. Louis FC in their second year as a USL side, Nashville coming in 2018, and Minnesota United FC coming to MLS in 2017 if this will really consolidate SKC's efforts on scouting and youth development to the Kansas City area. To which I would say is a blessing in disguise.
A blessing in disguise because then not only is Sporting Kansas City consolidating their efforts to Missouri and Kansas, but then Minnesota are focusing their efforts on player development to the north. All of this meaning that young players will receive more resources for development like better coaching and better facilities. This will also mean that teams will more thoroughly scout their regions. This in turn meaning less players will slip through the cracks, and the level of soccer will not only grow at the club level, but also at the international level.
You see as so many people want to talk about how to make the U.S. men's soccer team great and this is where it begins in my opinion. This growth isn't going to come quickly, it's going to take 15 to 20 years, but this is where it all starts, with league growth not only in MLS but also in NASL and USL.
So like this article says, Nashville FC might hurt SKC in their ability to scout and hand pick their players from such a large region, but this growth in the lower leagues will help U.S. soccer as a whole. Lastly, you better believe I can't wait to make a trip to Nashville to see Swope Park Rangers take on NFC, and try their BBQ that they claim is better than Kansas City's.