Saturday, March 30, 2013

Lower Divisions Preview – Part II: MLS Reserves

Part I - USL Pro     ||     Part II - MLS Reserves     ||     Part III - NASL 
With the new partnership between Major League Soccer and USL Pro, the MLS Reserve League, created in 2005, will take on a completely different vibe this year as it will undoubtedly continue to evolve over the coming years as more teams opt for different avenues for development of their first-team depth. Starting this year, the biggest changes are that four teams are out – having chosen to directly affiliate and loan players to a USL Pro side – and each team has two games against third tier opposition as part of their schedule.

Not surprisingly, DC United and the Philadelphia Union were two of the clubs that took the immediate affiliation leap. The two clubs have a history of working closely with the lower division counterparts they linked up with. Sporting Kansas City and the New England Revolution were the other two clubs that chose to eliminate their reserve teams in favor of affiliation agreements.

All but four of the MLS reserve sides have already played at least one contest this year with four weeks of the MLS season complete. Their schedules are comprised of 14 official games, two of which will be against their designated USL Pro opponent (excluding Chivas USA). The other 12 games will be home and away contests against each of their other reserve league conference opponents (FC Dallas is in East for reserves).  Rosters for the reserve league games are not limited to signed MLS players as clubs also give academy players, trialists and guest players opportunities to take the field (see key rules at conclusion).

Here is a quick look at what each MLS club is doing in regard to the MLS Reserves (note: FTM denotes First Team Minutes played in 2013 as of March 29)…

Chicago Fire

2012 Record:  4-6-0
USL Pro Opponents: Charlotte Eagles

Quincy Amarikwa, who has 22 minutes in one first-team match, was the captain for the Fire Reserves opening game against Columbus with Paolo Tornaghi playing in goal. Other recognizable names that saw action were Corben Bone and Brendan King on a squad that was loaded with three academy players and two trialists. Four games into the first team season only six players have logged over 200 minutes as the team is struggling, which will likely mean the reserve team will be fluctuating as the Fire find the right mix for the starting 11. Other potential reserve team players, who have been coming off the bench frequently for the first team, are Alex (175 FTM), Maicon Santos (163 FTM) and Yazid Atouba Emane (55 FTM).

Chivas USA

2012 Record: 3-4-3
USL Pro Opponents: Not playing

The Goats, going through a major transition on the first team as they bring the focus back to a Mexican-American style club, will probably be an enigma as a reserve team for quite some time as they don’t even have an official match until May 20 when they play the RSL reserves. Dan Kennedy is without question the first team starter, making Tim Melia the likely lead keeper for the reserve side when the time comes. Fourteen players have started at least two games thus far for the first team. Among the players that have been coming off the bench for minimal playing time and may see reserve games are Giovani Casillas (71 FTM), Carlos Borja (45 FTM), Jorge Villafana (45 FTM) and Daniel Antunez (28 FTM).

Colorado Rapids

2012 Record: 5-4-1
2006 & 2007 Reserve League champions
USL Pro Opponents: Harrisburg City Islanders

With Matt Pickens out injured, Haitian international goalkeeper Steward Ceus, who has made one first team appearance already this year, will be battling with Clint Irwin for the starting spot on the first team. Both keepers, coincidentally, have spent time with the Charlotte Eagles of USL Pro with Ceus spending two seasons on loan to the club and Irwin joining the Rapids after playing for the Eagles in 2012. Recognizable names that were on the field in their first Reserve League match were Danny Mwanga, Nathan Sturgis, Edson Buddle and Nick LaBrocca (107 FTM). The Rapids have started the first team season off with a steady set of starters with 10 players starting at least three of the four games. Among the players that have been coming off the bench for minimal playing time and may see reserve games are Tony Cascio (200 FTM), Christopher Klute (56 FTM), Jamie Smith (55 FTM), Shane O’Neill (38 FTM) and Kamani Hill (15 FTM).

Columbus Crew

2012 Record: 7-2-1
2011 & 2012 Reserve League champions
USL Pro Opponents: Dayton Dutch Lions

A largely unknown group of players make up the Crew's depth charts when it comes to the reserve team. Eric Gehrig was the captain in their lone game thus far. Tony Tchani, who has played sparingly (63 FTM) in all four first-team games, played in the match along with Ethan Finlay (29 FTM), Ryan Finlay (15 FTM), Justin Meram (14 FTM) and Matias Sanchez (21 FTM). The bunch lead a clear group of players who will likely see plenty of reserve team action considering 11 players have started at least three of the four first team matches for the stable starting lineup.

DC United

2012 Record: 3-5-1
2005 Reserve League champions
USL Pro Affiliate: Richmond Kickers

The club opted to affiliate with the nearby Richmond Kickers, which DC United have had a long and fruitful working relationship with over the years with friendlies and more. The MLS side already announced the four players heading to the third tier side on loan: Taylor Kemp, Michael Seaton, Conor Shanosky and Casey Townsend.

FC Dallas

2012 Record: 6-3-1
USL Pro Opponents: Antigua Barracuda

Chris Seitz played in the first reserve team match, but questions are beginning to float about first team keeper Raul Fernandez. Fabian Castillo also made an appearance in the match, but has been featuring heavily for the first team thus far. Others recognizable names, however, include Eric Hassli (36 FTM), Bobby Warshaw (62 FTM) and Stephen Keel (1 FTM). Other players who have come off the bench for the first team, which has had 11 players start at least three of the four matches, and may see reserve league time are Je-Vaughn Watson (152 FTM), Blas Perez (90 FTM) and London Woodberry (1 FTM).

Houston Dynamo

2012 Record: 6-2-2
2008 Reserve League champions
USL Pro Opponents: Charleston Battery

An extremely deep first team will see a lot of well known players from a side that has reached MLS Cup the last two years taking the field in the reserve league outings. In the first match alone, recognizable names such as Cam Weaver (20 FTM), Omar Cummings (1 FTM), Luiz Camargo (10 FTM), Warren Creavalle (94 FTM), Eric Brunner (90 FTM) and Mike Chabala were on the field with backup keeper Tyler Deric. Brian Ownby also played, but has since been loaned to the Richmond Kickers. Eight players have started all three games with another trio starting at least two.

LA Galaxy

2012 Record: 6-3-1
USL Pro Opponents: Los Angeles Blues

With two games coming up in the next few weeks, including their April 7 opener, and the first team getting some schedule relief for the Champions League, it may be possible to see Landon Donovan make a rare appearance. The reserve team, though, will be far more important for others if the reigning two-time champions continue their Champions League run. Most of the first team players that have played so far have seen significant time, leaving fringe players like Michael Stephens (59 FTM), Hictor Jimenez (19 FTM) and Rafael Garcia (14) as depth players. And though  he has made a splash in the start of the season, its likely the young Jack McBean (124 FTM) will see time with the reserve team when Donovan is back and the team’s at full strength.

Montreal Impact

2012 Record: 7-2-1
2012 Reserve League runners-up
USL Pro Opponents: Rochester Rhinos

The Impact have gotten off to a hot start in MLS, but the reserve team is largely unknown outside of MAC Hermann trophy winner Andrew Wenger (21 FTM). Evan Bush was the keeper in the first match of the season for the reserves, which also featured Dennis Iapichino (84 FTM), Calum Mallace (36 FTM) and five academy players. In addition, the club recently yanked its U21 side out of the CSL, which recently had its sanctioning by the federation revoked following the international gambling scandal that has embroiled the league in controversy. The removal of the team could see some of those players in action with the reserves or going out on loan.

New England Revolution

2012 Record:  2-5-3
USL Pro Affiliate: Rochester Rhinos

Being in northern New York, Rochester is virtually a New England type city and the two clubs know one another from past US Open Cup meetings – four in all. The Revolution have chosen to send the Rhinos Tyler Polak, Gabe Latigue, Matt Horth and Bilal Ducket on loan for the season.

New York Red Bulls

2012 Record:  3-5-2
2005 Reserve League runners-up
USL Pro Opponents: Wilmington Hammerheads

New York's keeper in the first reserve match, Santiago Castano, is well down in the depth charts, as are most of the largely unknown players that saw action in the game. Ruben Bover (87 FTM) is the lone player that has seen any meaningful first-team time so far this season with Lloyd Sam (7 FTM), Josue Martinez (11 FTM) and Amando Moreno (2 FTM) also seeing action on the young season. Ten players have started at least three of the four first team contests this year.

Philadelphia Union

2012 Record:  4-4-2
USL Pro Affiliate: Harrisburg City Islanders

The relationship between the Union and City Islanders is nothing new as the two clubs have had a formal partnership already in place for three years as part of an extensive program that also includes the PDL side Reading United AC.  Thus far the Union have sent Harrisburg three players on loan in the form of Cristhian Hernandez, Greg Jordan and Jimmy McLaughlin.

Portland Timbers

2012 Record:  4-5-1
USL Pro Opponents: VSI Tampa Bay

A number of recognizable names dotted the roster for the Timbers in the first reserve league match. Joining goalkeeper Milos Kocic were Kalif Alhassan (117 FTM), Michael Nanchoff, Sebastian Rincon, and Rodney Wallace (22 FTM).  Among the players that have been coming off the bench for minimal playing time and may see reserve games are Jose Adolfo Valencia and Sal Zizzo. Former EPL player Frederic Piquionne (20 FTM) and Valencia are competing, along with Ryan Johnson for the starting striker position(s) which could leave one at times playing reserve league games attempting to find form and rhythm.

Real Salt Lake

2012 Record:  3-5-2
USL Pro Opponents: Phoenix FC

As long as Nick Rimando is available for the first team, veteran keeper Josh Saunders will probably see regular time for the RSL reserve side along with Jeff Attinella. Some recognizable names that saw action in their most recent reserve team match were Chris Wingert, Ned Grabavoy (135 FTM), Yordany Alvarez (89 FTM) and Nat Borchers (90 FTM). Among other players that have been coming off the bench for minimal playing time and may see reserve games are Joao Plata (146 FTM), John Stertzer (33 FTM), Devon Sandoval (31 FTM) and Olmes Garcia (13 FTM) as well as Cole Grossman, who has one start.

San Jose Earthquakes

2012 Record: 5-3-2
USL Pro Opponents: Antigua Barracuda

When San Jose took the field for their first reserve match, it was only March 4 and the team was loaded with trialists. Some recognizable names in the lineup though were Nana Attakora (90 FTM), Cordell Cato (24 FTM), Sam Garza (52 FTM) and reserve game captain Brad Ring. Among the players getting a couple starts and some time off the bench thus far this season are Mike Fucito (167 FTM), Dan Gargan (90 FTM) and Adam Jahn (211 FTM), who has impressed filling in for injuries.

Seattle Sounders

2012 Record:  4-5-1
2011 Reserve League runners-up
USL Pro Opponents: Orlando City

Team depth has been an important factor for the Sounders over the past few years with Champions League and Open Cup being priorities. This year in their first reserve team match a number of players who regularly play for the first team were in action along with Marcus Hahnemann, who is arguably the most experienced second string keeper in the league. Those known names include Zach Scott (90 FTM), Alex Caskey (46 FTM), Lamar Neagle (9 FTM), David Estrada (90 FTM) and Eriq Zavaleta (6 FTM).

Sporting Kansas City

2012 Record:  2-6-2
2006 & 2008 Reserve League runners-up
USL Pro Affiliate: Orlando City

Though the relationship for the Lions is mostly for off-the-field reasons as Orlando City takes steps to build a stadium and join MLS, the team welcomed the SKC foursome of Christian Duke, Dom Dwyer, Jon Kempin and Yann Songo’o on loan from the reigning US Open Cup champions.

Toronto FC

2012 Record:  2-5-2
USL Pro Opponents: Pittsburgh Riverhounds

The new era for Toronto FC is off to a positive start with a first-team unit that has seen 10 players log over 240 minutes in three games with John Bostock and Kyle Bekker also contributing heavily. Other players seeing some time, that could be making reserve team appearances in the future when the season begins are Darel Russell (30 FTM), Jonathan Osorio (14 FTM), Taylor Morgan (15 FTM) and Emery Welshman (5 FTM). Back-up netminder Joe Bendik has played all three first-team games thus far with Stefan Frei out injured, but could be returning to the bench and reserve games soon. With Luis Silva and Julio Cesar also near returns from injury, Terry Dunfield and Jeremy Hall could also find themselves dropping in the depth charts.  TFC also features a number of other known players that have yet to see time, including Andrew Wiedeman, Gale Agbossoumonde, Logan Emory and Justin Braun, who has been out with concussion issues.

Vancouver Whitecaps

2012 Record:  3-5-2
USL Pro Opponents: Richmond Kickers

With the reserve season still a few weeks away, the Whitecaps have gotten off to a good start with thanks, in part, to some of their depth with defender Jay DeMerit out. Plenty of talent up top has left Camilo (42 FTM) as a second string player along with fellow striker Corey Hertzog (1 FTM) and goalkeeper Brad Knighton. Known players that could also see time with the reserves include Matt Watson and Tommy Heinemann, though several players could be joining defender Carlyle Mitchell on loan to FC Edmonton – or elsewhere - as the two teams have been working together during the preseason.

Key Reserve League Roster Rules

- All players appearing on an MLS club’s roster may represent their team in MLS Reserve League play; however, no player may play more than 120 minutes in a reserve team match and any preceding matches that occur within a 60-hour period. Further, no player may play more than a combined total of 90 minutes in a Reserve Team Match and any preceding matches that occurred within 36 hours prior to such reserve team match.

- Clubs may also use up to five academy players per reserve game.

- A Reserve League call-up or “Trialist Player” with a club may appear in reserve league games provided that he is properly registered with US Soccer. A representative from the MLS Club must also certify that the trialist is a bona fide professional soccer player. Trialists may participate in a maximum of two games per club per season.

- Clubs may play up to a maximum of five non-MLS Roster players per Reserve League Game. Within the five non-MLS roster player limit, only three players may be trialist players.

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