A few days ago Jeff Rueter broke the news that Minnesota United may be getting a sister team. This sister team would be Saint Louis Football Club, a USL team in St. Louis.
So what does this mean for the Loons? What kind of a relationship could this be? Are we going to establish a City Football Group-esque stable of teams and just buy and sell players between them? Are we going to establish a legendary farm system for players and win MLS Cup with the youngest team ever? Would we have had rights to Josh Sargent?
To answer all of those questions succinctly and unsatisfactorily, “no.” But more on that below.
Who is our new friend?
STLFC is a relatively new team that operates out of the Eastern Conference of USL. They have also played in the Western Conference, presumably to make up the numbers in the other division. While they were founded in 2014, but did not begin league play until 2015. Their highest finish was also in 2015, 9th place. The following years they finished 14th and 12th, despite scoring more goals and getting more points. Their downfall? The leaky defense. St Louis and our Loons might just be a match made in Heaven. St Louis FC is the closest USL team to Minneapolis/St. Paul after Swope Park Rangers, who are Sporting KC’s second team.
Long time MNUFC fans might have fond memories of of St. Louis FC from our last season in NASL where we faced off against them in the 4th round of the Open Cup and ran out 2-0 winners. A certain C. Ramirez chalked up a eye-catching assist for the first goal in that game. Some might say that he should play 90 minutes in the #10 role in preseason just to see what happens...
This is special, right? Few other MLS teams have USL Affiliates, right?
Ha. No. LAFC had a USL Affiliate before the Loons. A complete list can be found here. Some changes have been made as far as team affiliates go, including Atlanta adding a true second team rather than piggy-backing off of a pre-existing USL team. Assuming this deal goes through as reported, the only MLS team without an affiliate would be DC United, and they are in talks to open their own second team as well. STLFC’s disappointing position in the table might leave fans wondering “why don’t we link up with a good USL team to send our players too?” This is a fair question, but if you are going to be sending players out to get minutes and experience, they won’t be going to a title contender. The parent team’s benchwarmer is generally not going to slot right into a team prepping for a playoff run. Pairing up with a perennial bottom feeder means that they have nothing to lose by trying new things. Lack relegation means that even if the new player doesn’t work out the team won’t be punished for it. Having a ready-made proving ground for young players could be a good thing.
So what does this do for the Loons?
In the end, not a whole lot. The Loons already were loaning players out, most notably Alex Kapp and Joe Greenspan to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Pittsburgh is the USL affiliate of the Columbus Crew. This would indicate that affiliated programs don’t even have exclusive deals with the teams they pair with, only a preference. MNUFC would likely need to start their own second team to have an exclusive relationship. Teams like Sporting KC and Red Bull New York have used their second teams impressively to develop players like Erik Palmer-Brown and Tyler Adams. FC Dallas has a reserve team and a USL affiliate to maximize opportunities for players and get more minutes for everyone. The Loons lack the depth of talent and possibly depth of pocket to be able to start of genuine second team right off the bat. A true second team would allow the Loons to truly maximize game time for reserve and young players since all players would be under the same umbrella. Swope Park Rangers doesn’t have to prioritize one of their players over an SKC loanee because they are part of the same club.
And now to answer the question posed at the beginning regarding a soon to be 18 years old and soon to be playing professionally in Germany Josh Sargent. Sargent is a product of St. Louis Scott Gallagher, a club affiliated with St. Louis FC via the parent organization. Had Sargent chosen the MLS route, however, he would have been a homegrown player for Sporting Kansas City. This would not prevent him from playing for St. Louis FC and eventually the Loons, but his entire salary would impact the salary cap and he would be available in an expansion draft. Affiliate clubs do not get a homegrown player territory like MLS clubs do and Sporting owns all of Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma, despite FC Dallas and Minnesota United having affiliates there.
Should we #PANIC?
Long story short, no. This is a step in the right direction, but it’s a baby step as opposed to a leap or even a off-balance stumble. An affiliate club is something that we should have had lined up a year and a half ago, but it is understandable as we lacked the depth to make full use of an affiliate. Loans were conducted on an as-needed basis. I would hope that if the front office thinks they need an affiliate, then they would also be filling out the team with enough depth to be able to make use of St. Louis FC on a consistent basis. The step that I would hope that the Loons take in the next three to five years would be to develop their own second team in USL to loan players to. They would have more control over coaching styles, minutes, and development. This would also allow players returning from injury or players missing one or two things in their development to work side by side with the first team. They could call it Loons II, or Dos Loons if you will.
Chime in down below in the comments if you think this a good move for the Loons or just another thing that they should have done long ago.