Toronto FC defeated Seattle Sounders to win MLS Cup last Sunday. Meanwhile, New York City FC failed to advance to the conference championship game this season. Surely with one of the four best starting XIs in the league, they should have made it that far. Right?!
Sadly, this assumption is incorrect. When it comes to the playoffs, you have to rely on depth. As I have highlighted before — and will continue to do so until NYCFC does it — depth is created through United Soccer League (USL) teams. It’s great to have a player who can jump straight into the first team, like James Sands, but that doesn’t mean everyone can do it. Even Tyler Adams, one of the best young players in MLS right now, needed two seasons in the USL before he was ready.
Like Adams, Sands could benefit tremendously from playing in the USL. If New York City had a geographically-close affiliate, he could theoretically play almost 2000 minutes split between the first team and USL side. There is no point in him sitting on the bench and doing nothing at first team games — he needs to be playing. Additionally, having a local USL affiliate would allow him to still train with the first team, so he could continue learning from Patrick Vieira.
Above you can see the Columbus Crew SC players who have spent time on loan in the USL. Notice that the star of the Crew’s playoff run, Zack Steffen, spent some time there last year. When was the last time that NYCFC’s backup keeper Andre Rawls played in a game? Now, Rawls most likely isn’t the next Zack Steffen, but if Sean Johnson was to get hurt, their goalie’s last competitive game would have been in September 2015. 2015!
Also, in both of their playoff games against New York City, the Crew were able to bring their first-round draft pick, Lalas Abubakar, off the bench to shore up their defense. One of NYCFC’s first-round draft picks, Jonathan Lewis, played just one minute in the second game and didn’t appear at all in the first. Kwame Awuah — NYCFC’s other first-round draft pick — didn’t make it off the bench in the second game and didn’t even make the bench to begin with in the first. Lewis and Awuah have shown flashes in their limited minutes, but both need time to develop. Would NYCFC have bowed out before the semis if they had been able to develop in the USL?
48 percent of the Seattle Sounders roster spent time with the Sounders 2 at some point in their career. Tyler Miller, Cristian Roldan, Nouhou Tolo, and Harry Shipp all appeared in the playoffs and for S2. 39 percent of the Toronto FC roster spent time with TFC II at some point in their career. Marky Delgado and Alex Bono both started in the championship game and appeared for TFC II. Bono was drafted sixth overall the same year that Rawls was (Rawls was the 44th pick). Bono spent two seasons in the USL, while Rawls spent one year in the USL and one year practicing with NYCFC. This year, Bono beat out Clint Irwin for the top spot on the depth chart. If he hadn’t spent two years playing with TFC II, he probably wouldn’t have been able to compete with Irwin. Imagine what could have happened if Rawls had another developmental season under his belt. Maybe NYCFC wouldn’t have felt the need to trade for Sean Johnson, and instead could have used those resources to increase their depth elsewhere.
Whether an affiliate, partnership, or NYCFC II, New York City FC clearly need a USL team. If they want to win a championship, it needs to happen. Atlanta is already forming a USL team as they enter their second season. Hell, Los Angeles FC has a USL affiliate and they haven’t even played an MLS game yet. NYCFC are about to enter into their fourth season and the clock is ticking. Claudio Reyna, when is a legitimate USL affiliate going to happen?
What do you think? Should NYCFC have a USL team? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments below!