Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Major League Connection

While the ink has only just dried on the groundbreaking MLS/USL partnership agreement, the relationship between the two leagues is anything but a new one.  In fact, most casual fans might dismiss the assertion that the United Soccer League has been instrumental in shaping the dynamic, successful, ever expanding organization we now know as MLS.

Take a look at the teams at the top of the American soccer pyramid.  Granted, there are several MLS teams who are football pioneers in their own right, but the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Montreal Impact were all once among the most competitive sides in the USL.

Now look at the players that make up the mosaic of Major League talent.  You've got a handful of international stars (either waxing or waning), a good crop of kids drafted from their college teams, and a gracious harvest of persistent professionals who've made the breakthrough to the top tier of the national system.

Need examples?  Well, thanks for asking!  Here ya go:

Start with the Seattle Sounders.  From Charleston alone they've picked up Osvaldo Alonso, whose become their midfield maestro and team captain.  They also nabbed Lamar Neagle who has since been traded to the Montreal Impact.  Alex Caskey earned his MLS contract last year and features regularly with the boys in Rave Green.

The Battery's "Wildman", Tom Heinemann, signed first with the Columbus Crew in 2011 following Charleston's incredible Championship season.  Flourishing as an impact player, Tom was sidelined by injury in his second year.  But the future looks brighter still since the forward just completed a transfer to the Vancouver Whitecaps.  During his loan from NY Red Bulls to the Wilmington Hammerheads, last season Cory Hertzog won a spot on the USL All-league team and was easily one of the most entertaining players in USL.  Hertzog also recently put pen to paper with the 'Caps.

In Portland, the Timbers can thank the likes of the LA Blues for the striking starlet Bright Dike.  Dike's stint in LA paved the way for his acclimation to playing on an even larger stage.  Portland's defensive rookie Andrew Jean-Baptiste also spent time with the Blues last summer.

Especially considering the potential of the new MLS/USL partnership, this is really just the beginning.  The Charleston Battery has four more players training/on trial with MLS clubs and there's a good chance several of them may make the step up.  The Battery's offensive spark and set-piece hero Nicki Patterson is in camp with the New York Red Bulls, having impressed the big boys in their Open Cup outing in the Lowcountry.  Jose Cuevas, USL rookie of the year, is being looked at by the Seattle Sounders and is joined by teammate Cody Ellison.  Midfielder Ryan Richter, who enjoyed an incredible run of form throughout last year's championship season, is on trial with D.C. United and things look quite promising for him in the Capital.

USL Pro will soon be wrapping up their annual player combine, which promises to pump even more fresh talent into the system and with so many PDL franchises opening up across the States (not to mention the NPSL) the sport in America is growing in leaps and bounds.  Now that the nation's two premier leagues have joined forces, the sky is the limit!

(photo credit: MLS facebook page)

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