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New York City will affiliate with USL Pro's Wilmington Hammerheads

The affiliation agreement lets New York City loan players to Wilmington for development

Raf Noboa y Rivera

One of the big questions facing New York City as the season approaches was how to deal with players on the fringe of the team. Historically, MLS teams had reserve squads where players who weren’t good enough to crack the first-team roster could get some playing time. However, not many teams went through the process of setting one up. The reserve league dissolved in 2008.

Although it returned in 2011, in 2013 MLS gave its teams the option of either setting up a reserve team or choosing to affiliate with USL Pro teams rather than fielding an MLS Reserve League team. That arrangement had advantages for both leagues. From MLS’ point of view, its teams could devote the resources needed to set up a team from scratch to other areas requiring attention. From the perspective of USL Pro, affiliation with MLS teams gave those clubs added stability.

The arrangement between MLS and USL Pro now works primarily to improve player development in North America, strengthen league competition and build ties between divisions in the American soccer pyramid. This multi-year deal encourages MLS and USL Pro team affiliations and player loans, and it will lead to more games for teams and developing players. The biggest success from this partnership is probably Orlando City — several players, most notably Dom Dwyer, got started with Orlando before distinguishing themselves in MLS, and  it probably played a large role in Orlando City’s "promotion" to MLS as a team.

Now that you know the history behind all this — where does New York City come in?

Going into the season, it was unclear whether New York City would create a "B-team" — a New York City II, if you will — or simply choose to link up with a USL Pro team. As the season drew ever closer, the chances of the team creating a B-squad grew smaller; but so did the number of available USL Pro teams, even when taking USL Pro expansion into consideration.

That uncertainty is now gone. This morning, New York City announced that it would be affiliating with the Wilmington Hammerheads. Given the options on hand, this is a fantastic decision.

"We have been working on this affiliation for a long time now; it was a very important decision for New York City FC," said New York City sporting director Claudio Reyna in a statement. "I visited Wilmington and was very impressed with the structure, the coaching staff and the professionalism that I saw. I’m excited at what our combined knowledge and resources can achieve. This affiliation will provide us with a fantastic option if we feel some of our younger players would benefit from valuable first team experience and to continue their progression at a great club that shares our playing philosophy."

"This partnership is massive for the entire Wilmington soccer community, from our first team, to our youth club, to our loyal supporters and hopefully to new supporters," said Wilmington Hammerheads technical director and head coach Carson Porter. "These MLS/USL PRO affiliations really come down to relationships and already Claudio Reyna, Jason Kreis, Tim Pernetti and the entire NYCFC staff have opened their doors to us."

The affiliation arrangement goes beyond loans and includes ties between the teams off the field, including the front office and coaching staff. Those ties were evident yesterday, as Porter and members of the Hammerheads front office sat with Reyna and Kreis during the MLS Super Draft.

"Jason has included our coaching staff in his preparations towards their first season and Claudio took the time to come down to Wilmington to evaluate and spend time with our entire staff," said Porter. "These types of actions are made because NYCFC is committed to excellence in whatever they put their name on, in this case it’s their USL Affiliate. We thank NYCFC for the opportunity and are fully committed to contribute and support in any way we can."

The Hammerheads, based in Wilmington, N.C., have been playing since 1996; in American lower-division soccer, that’s an eternity. The team took a one-year hiatus in 2010 to consolidate its financial backing, but returned in 2011 and played for the USL Pro title in 2012. Their long-time coach, David Irving, left the team after 15 years last season; in talking with people who follow the league, his departure was seen as a good sign, with Irving being called a "divisive" figure. Their new coach, Carson Porter, has experience in NCAA soccer, and was an assistant coach with the USMNT U-18 team last year.

What really stands out in looking at the Hammerheads is that Wilmington has successfully used MLS loanees from Toronto (with whom they were affiliated last season), Columbus, and Philadelphia. In short: the Hammerheads are a showcase small-market club for USL Pro. That means loanees from New York City are likely to see plenty of action, and both clubs will probably work very closely in order to maximize their shared resources.