Analysis / USL

From Bethlehem to Canada – soccer and player development updated

Feature photo courtesy of BSFC Communications

Developing the game of soccer and its players occurs simultaneously at several different levels.

Some efforts are as small and focused as a single team, others require a broader field of view involving projects within a league, or the process of creating a new one. And then there are ideas that encompass a nation.

We present four current separate developments that share the theme of growing the game north of the Rio Grande between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

The two tables immediately below, which are our more narrowly focused items, closely follow those included by Atlanta United 2 in their media materials packet for their July 29 match against Bethlehem. The data in the first chart is PSP’s. That in the second is Atlanta’s.

The narrowest focus

When Steel head coach Brendan Burke comments on average squad age, he refers to the number of minutes actually played and the ages of those who actually play them, to eliminate graybeards officially listed by the league who are not in fact playing. (Think Brian Carroll in 2017.)  He says the 2018 squad is noticeably younger than that of 2017, just as 2017 was relative to 2016’s founders.

We’re not entirely sure what technique Burke uses to reach the data. Thus, our results are only close to his.

The point is describing quantitatively the playing environment in which both coach and the entire organization believe maturing teenager soccer players best develop. There is a balance between youth and experience in Bethlehem as several different short-term goals are fulfilled simultaneously.

Never lose sight of those teenagers. Without developing them the rest would not exist. They are why ownership is willing to spend a lot of money.

Bethlehem Steel roster composition

CategoryNumberAverage AgePlayers
BSFC contracted players22.5Chambers, Moar, Mahoney, Nanco, Holness, Aubrey, Catalano, Apodaca, Chiluya, Ngalina, Faris, Skundrich, Paterson,
Homegrowns520Jones, Real, Najem, Fontana, McKenzie
2018 Super Draft picks422Catalano, Apodaca, Paterson - NYCFC, Skundrich - LAFC
Union contracted players1522.3McGuire, McCarthy, Herbers, Jones, Najem, Burke, Fontana, Epps, Real, (Ayuk - rumored gone), Mbaizo, Marquez, McKenzie.Yaro, Elliott
Academy players517.4Aaronson, Ofeimu, Temple, Rafanello, Rayyan, (Romero*, Shakes* -reserve keepers, no minutes)
Total Players to appear 34 (As per BSFC Communications cumulative statistics)(Several players appear twice above)
A narrow focus

Data from Atlanta United 2

Within the United Soccer League, several Major League Soccer sides own or control all the soccer aspects of reserve sides. Below is a useful chart comparing these current player development strategies. The general approach of each of the clubs is more or less the same, but the exact details vary.

The details of Atlanta’s calculating methodologies are unknown. The number they give for Toronto FC II’s average squad age is the number coach Burke used in conversation a few weeks ago when discussing the shrinking number of “MLS 2” sides in USL Division 2. So Atlanta’s data are probably reliable.

Comparing MLS clubs' USL rosters

Toronto FC II20.6634
Seattle 220.71036
Los Dos21.4430
Bethlehem Steel FC21.6 (Atlanta's number)532 (Atlanta's number)
New York Red Bulls II22231
Atlanta 222.1633
Swope Park Rangers22.4533
Portland 222.9334
Real Monarchs23.7335
Reno 1868 FC**24.1028
Rio Grande Valley Toros**22.9033

** hybrid affiliates, not wholly owned affiliates

A league-wide focus

The youngest squad in the chart above has already announced that it will be a founding member of USL’s new Division 3 league that will begin play in 2019. Other current and former MLS 2 sides might conceivably join them.

Burke is already on record suggesting that Toronto FC II is a bit too young to get maximum developmental benefit out of playing in USL’s division 2.  He thinks his own side — Tuesday’s average age was 21.5 or a maybe a touch under he said  — is right in the sweet spot for such benefits. He is not talking about winning and losing, but developing academy players like Brenden Aaronson and Ben Ofiemu for the first team, as this year’s first team center back tandem — McTrusty some call it –has been developed.

An announcement at the recent USL meetings in Atlanta indicated that a league approval request would be presented this month to U.S. Soccer. These six teams have been publicly announced, and USL statements assert more announcements are coming.

  • Toronto FC II.                                    (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
  • South Georgia Tormenta FC           (Statesboro, GA)
  • FC Tucson                                           (Owned and operated by Phoenix Rising FC)
  • Greenville Pro Soccer                       (Greenville, SC: not the final name)
  • Madison Pro Soccer                          (Madison, WI: not the final name)
  • Chattanooga Pro Soccer                   (Chatanooga, TN: not the final name)
A national focus

The second league slated to begin play in North America in 2019 is the Canadian Premier League, and its purpose is to improve the game as played in Canada.

The national association approved it last May. A commissioner is on the job, and a central league office is being developed. Seven teams have been announced, with widespread, logical speculation that an already-existing eighth will join.

No Canadian MLS teams are expected to join.

It is possible that Ottawa Fury might leave USL and join the new CanPL in 2019. So far there is no official announcement, only unofficial media speculation based on two points.

  • This year, there is a noticeably increased number — 17 up from 12 — of Canadian players on the Fury’s 2018 roster that can be interpreted as moving toward’s the CPL’s statement that there will be minimum number of Canadians required,
  • The recent USL announcement of only a 34-game season while adding seven new expansion USL clubs. There are two other known USL departures, but Ottawa leaving helps the USL schedule arithmetic work, although it does not make it work perfectly because there seem to be too many teams for 34-game home-and-home seasons.

These are the seven Canadian Premier League teams officially announced so far.

  • Cavalry FC                        (Calgary, Alberta)
  • FC Edmonton                  (Edmonton, Alberta)
  • Forge FC                           (Hamilton, Ontario)
  • HFX Wanderers FC       (Halifax, Nova Scotia)
  • Pacific FC                         (Langford, Vancouver Island, British Columbia)
  • Valour FC                         (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
  • York 9 FC                         (York, Ontario)

Others are reportedly making plans to join later than next year. At the Hamilton Forge FC launch on July 12, 2018, league commissioner David Clanachan mentioned the hope for two to four expansion teams in 2020. Moncton, New Brunswick, Regina or Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, Quebec City or Sherbrooke in Quebec province, and Missasaugua, Ontario have all been mentioned in print with varying degrees of credibility.

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