Major League Soccer reserve teams to compete in USL Pro in 2013

The Charleston Battery and D.C. United soccer teams during the National Anthem at Blackbaud Stadium.

One day in the not so distant future, the Charleston Battery could be affiliated with a team from Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer and USL Pro announced Wednesday a long-term partnership that could eventually lead to affiliations similar to ones in professional baseball and hockey between teams from the two leagues.

This initial agreement includes interleague play between USL Pro and MLS Reserve League teams and the establishment of several team affiliations this season.

The Charleston Battery will not be officially affiliated with any MLS team this season.

“This is something that we’ve been in favor of for years,” said Charleston Battery president Andrew Bell. “We believe this is an extremely positive move for both the USL Pro and Major League Soccer. We think this partnership will not only strengthen both leagues, but will help in the development of players in the United States.”

The affiliations between the two leagues will start this season and will include at least four players on long-term loan from the MLS parent club to its USL Pro affiliate. The MLS teams that already have formal USL Pro affiliations will not participate in the 2013 MLS Reserve League. Neither MLS nor USL Pro clubs are required to enter into an affiliation, and specific affiliations are expected to be announced in the next few weeks.

USL Pro president Tim Holt said less than half of the 13 teams that make up the USL Pro league will have an MLS affiliate this season, but that number would increase next year. Holt believes that every USL Pro team will have an official MLS affiliate or a strong partnership in the coming years.

“This is just the first phase of a long term calibration between USL Pro and Major League Soccer,” Holt said. “We’ve got ideas on where we’d like this to go and the MLS has ideas as well. I can’t say for certain that we’ll have straight affiliations like they do in baseball and hockey with all the teams in the MLS.

“The MLS reserve teams could become a part of our league or it could be a combination of both interleague play and affiliations. What I do know is that this is the beginning of a long-term relationship with between USL Pro and Major League Soccer.”

While the Battery won’t have an affiliation this season, Bell said the club is hoping to finalize a deal with an MLS team by the beginning of the 2014 season.

“We didn’t want to rush into a decision like that,” Bell said. “We wanted to our due diligence and decide on a club that would make sense for all the parties involved.”

Each of the USL Pro teams will compete in two interleague games against MLS Reserve teams with a home and home series.

All interleague games will count in both the official USL Pro and MLS Reserve League standings. MLS Reserve teams, however, will not compete in the USL Pro playoffs.

“This partnership represents the first step in a long-term alliance between MLS and USL PRO to connect domestic professional soccer through a system that benefits player development, competition and the overall business of our sport,” MLS Executive Vice President of Player Relations & Competition Todd Durbin said. “Over the past several years, USL PRO has made great strides in restructuring in a manner that serves to complement the objectives of MLS. This is a win-win for all involved and it demonstrates our strong commitment to growing North American professional soccer at all levels.”

Holt said several MLS teams would be interested in becoming affiliated with the Battery.

“There are very few teams in the USL Pro that are as attractive as the Charleston Battery,” Holt said. “The tradition, the facilities, the coaching staff, the fan base all make them one of the most attractive teams for Major League Soccer.”

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