Revolving Cast Of Players Highlights Flaw In MLS/USL Partnerships

Written by Ian Thomson

RICHMOND, Va. – The Richmond Kickers spent most of last Friday evening bustling around City Stadium causing little harm to the visiting Rochester Rhinos defense. A black Kickers team bus sat across the crumbling, weed-infested concrete from the immaculate grass playing surface. There was no need for Rochester to park it in front of their goal despite their struggles to gain possession and territory.

The incisive final-third passing and sharp finishing that saw Richmond sweep aside the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Dayton Dutch Lions in recent United Soccer Leagues Pro Division games had deserted them. Head coach Leigh Cowlishaw’s starting 11 had lost its sparkle. His back four remained sound and his attackers were lively in their movements, but something was not quite clicking.

“We had seven players from D.C. United today,” Richmond defender and assistant coach Sascha Gorres told The Soccer Observer after the Kickers eked out a 1-1 tie via a last-minute goal from George Davis IV.

“Six were starting, and they had not been training with us.”

USL entered into a partnership with Major League Soccer in January 2013 aimed at enhancing the development of professional players in North America and strengthening the competition in both leagues. Exclusive team affiliations were designed to allow MLS franchises to send at least four reserve players on long-term loans to lower-tiered affiliates, according to the official news release. Parent MLS teams incur all salary costs during loan periods.

There has been nothing long-term about many of the loan arrangements made this year. MLS teams are entitled to call up or send down loanees as often as they please under the current set-up. That leaves USL head coaches in the dark about which players they will have at their disposal for games and who will be available for training through the week.

Houston Dynamo midfielder Brian Ownby spent most of the 2013 season on loan to his hometown Kickers, notching seven goals and six assists as Richmond topped the regular-season standings. Ownby was loaned to Pittsburgh last month following the partnership agreement formed in the close season by the Dynamo and Riverhounds.

Ownby has since returned to Houston, clocking up 35 minutes from four substitute appearances as Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear deals with an injury crisis. Ownby’s absence from Pittsburgh’s line-up against Orlando City tonight means that he will have featured in 213 minutes out of a possible 540 for the Riverhounds – 39 percent of game time, and fewer minutes than he has spent on planes shuttling between Texas and Western Pennsylvania.

“Everyone thinks it’s great that we’re getting all these players,” Evans told The Soccer Observer after Pittsburgh’s 0-0 tie with the Charleston Battery on April 26.

“It’s difficult to keep the chemistry in the team right when you’ve got guys leaving and coming back.”

There have been some positives for Pittsburgh from the five players to arrive at Highmark Stadium this season. Evans was able to land Dynamo goalkeeper Michael Lisch at short notice when Hunter Gilstrap suffered a concussion in the Riverhounds’ season opener. Anthony Arena has turned in some impressive displays in central defense, although he will likely miss his second USL game in four tonight after a second recall by Kinnear.

Richmond’s close proximity to Washington, D.C. adds a different dynamic to the Kickers’ partnership with United. Ten D.C. players have featured in USL games so far this season, although they commonly spend the week training with their parent club.

“We appreciate that we have good players coming and playing for us,” Gorres said.

“Obviously we’d love to have the team that plays on the weekend practicing every day of the week to get a rhythm.”


Related Posts:

April 27, 2014 — Riverhounds Nudge Forward With Shutout Against Charleston

March 27, 2014 — Riverhounds Roster Unaffected By Club’s Bankruptcy Filing

Dec. 9, 2013 — Pittsburgh’s Ambitions Make Open Trials A Tougher Hurdle For Aspiring Pros

Oct. 30, 2013 — Pittsburgh Eyeing Orlando’s Status Within USL


Comments: 1

  1. frank says:

    Great article.. You can argue that the ‘fix’ would be to make teams adhere to loans with a standard time frame (like all other leagues in the world), but then you run into the problem of an MLS team needing to play 3rd tier guys since the 2nd tier are loaned out. Or the MLS club may be more hesitant to loan those players in the first place.

    It highlights another problem with the fact that the U.S. soccer system is not a Soccer Pyramid. It’s not happening (at the very least for a long while), but without a particular club being able to take care of themselves in a promotion/relegation system, you’ve created a minor league system, not a pyramid.

    The CFL, ex-XFL, Arena Football League, NCAA, aren’t all referred to as an ‘American’ Football Pyramid.

    There are benefits also, to the way MLS is set up, but unfortunately we can’t look anywhere else for answers to our own unique problems we’ve created.