USL - Philadelphia Union II

The unsettled future of Union II

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Three reports published Tuesday claim that three MLS wholly-owned affiliates will no longer  compete in their respective United Soccer League leagues in 2021. Orlando City B will no longer be part of USL League One, and both the Portland Timbers 2 and the Philadelphia Union II will no longer be part of the USL Championship.

First to break the story was Phil Grooms of the Beautiful Game Network, an internet sports page with an apparent emphasis on podcasts. Next was Jeff Rueter of The Athletic (paywall). And in the evening Abbie Mood reported those two reports on the MLS website itself.

All three suggest that a revival of a Major League Soccer reserve league is about to be announced, the MLS website piece using the term “reserve” directly when it says, “The future reserve team plans of each organization have yet to be announced.” The league would be part of MLS NEXT, apparently.

The story in The Athletic has the most detail. Rueter indicates that many MLS affiliates may pull out of the USL’s two professional leagues, but says that those wanting to stay for the higher level of competition will be allowed to do so. He lists Real Salt Lake, New York Red Bulls II, FC Dallas, and D. C. United as MLS clubs likely to keep their reserve teams in their current USL professional leagues.

Rueter cites rising travel costs due to USL-C and USL-One expansion as a factor in the shift, pointing out that in 2020 seven MLS teams had no USL professional team affiliation. He also states that the annual fee for playing in USLC is $225,000 and for USL League One the fee is slightly less than $100,000. Imagine Ernst Tanner’s eyebrows reacting to paying a Jack Elliott’s salary as an annual participation fee.

Although it has been reported that clubs had an August 31 deadline to pay their USL fee for 2021, a spokesperson for the Union said they were not aware of such a deadline.

Running one’s own sanctioned league will have plenty of expenses.  But Major League Soccer will now be in full control of every step of the player development process from alpha to omega, as Rueter says, “a likely necessary step as it looks to become more of a selling league.”

The greatest beneficiaries will be the seven clubs who have had no affiliations with USL clubs this season, Cincinnati, Columbus, LAFC, Minnesota,  Montreal, Nashville, and Vancouver,  They can now fill the gap between their academies and their first teams, in some cases as their academies mature into needing the gap filled.

Rueter suggests the MLS Reserve League will seek division three status from U.S. Soccer.


  1. I can’t wait to hear from Tanner on this. He seemed to prefer testing young players against pros as soon as possible. Going into the MLS reserve league, where the talent will be much worse and/or full of other mostly academy players seems to be a step down from what we were up against in USL-C.

    • I agree.
      This is some very very interesting and important news. Interested in seeing what exactly Tanner and the Union do here.

    • Thoughtful comment and worth serious consideration.
      From my POV, and maybe I’m off my rocker, maybe USL has argued having the MLS teams is bringing down the level of play in that league. I swear my insttncts are, USL has intentions of its own and is perfectly happy going its own way altogether. “Go play your first team reserve and academy team players somewhere else- your competetive needs are not our problem.”
      I hope there is a full on (un)Civil soccer War in this country… maybe then we would develop real worthwhile rivalries (again) between teams and/or across leagues of play and not this forced bullshit we get marketed down our throat.

  2. Looks like Seattle will stay in USL. They seem to have played 15 and 16 yr olds this year in their USL games…

  3. I think this is a good thing for the future of MLS, but if implemented, it needs to be implemented alongside greater uses of loans of young players to USL and NASL.

  4. Section 114 (as former as all of you) says:

    Presumably it will open the idea of loaning out players to USL sides. For example, Oravec could have played in USL this year instead of spending the season diddling away on the imaginary bench.

  5. Has anyone considered, this may in fact be a better thing for USL?
    What do the Riverhounds gain by pummeling Union2?

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