Hershey, Pa. – The Philadelphia Union and the Harrisburg City Islanders have expanded their partnership, allowing Union players to stay, practice and play games along their USL counterparts for an extended period of time, possibly the entire length of the USL campaign.
“Having meaningful competitions at levels below MLS is absolutely critical to the development of aspiring players in North America," said Philadelphia Union CEO & Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz. "This partnership sets the stage toward building robust and successful levels below MLS to not only develop players but also, referees and soccer executives.”
Similar to Major League Baseball’s farm system, the Union can send First Team players down to Harrisburg for development, to gain extra playing time or to regain fitness following an injury. The player would still be a member of the Union’s roster and the club would hold all rights to the player, as well as be responsible for the players’ salaries.
“This is a great opportunity to create a system to develop better players and organizations at all levels,” states Eric Pettis, CEO Harrisburg City Islanders. “Our partnership is a tremendous example of seeing a bigger vision of what the total development of soccer can be. Creating a system to strengthen the sport much like baseball is imperative to the continued growth in this country. The City Islanders are extremely proud to be a partner with the Philadelphia Union at the inception of this agreement between the MLS and USL PRO.”
Per an announcement made on January 23 by Major League Soccer and USL PRO, MLS teams now have the opportunity to formally partner with USL PRO clubs to further player development. The Union are one of four MLS teams to pilot this new program, with Sporting Kansas City linking up with Orlando City, D.C. United pairing with the Richmond Kickers and the New England Revolution partnering with the Rochester Rhinos. The Union will no longer field a Reserve League team, instead incorporating reserve players into the City Islanders to help the team compete for a USL championship.
MLS sides without formal USL PRO affiliates will send their Reserve teams to participate in interleague competition with USL PRO squads. Matches between these MLS Reserve teams and USL PRO sides will count in both the official USL PRO and MLS Reserve League standings.
The agreement extends beyond just the players, as both the technical and front office staffs will exchange tips and best practices throughout the year. The clubs will also still hold their annual friendly match in Harrisburg. The date of the 2013 match-up will be announced at a later date.
Officially signed in March of 2010, the original partnership provided the Union with an option to loan players to Harrisburg for increased playing time, as well as scout up and coming talent, such as Union starting right back Sheanon Williams, who suited up for the City Islanders in 2010.
The City Islanders and the Union’s PDL affiliate, Reading United, are the second to last stop in the Union’s “Path to PPL Park” development model, which takes players from youth soccer to the professional ranks with a variety of steps designed to help players reach their full potential.