United Soccer League’s San Antonio FC issued a press release last Thursday to announce an affiliation between the USL franchise and New York City FC of the MLS. The official partnership is to begin in 2017, but the length of the agreement was not disclosed. Scratching the Pitch believes it is effectively finished before it gets started, which is to say it will never really get started in earnest.
To substantiate the claim, let us compare the history of NYCFC affiliations with USL teams to two primary benefits of affiliation listed San Antonio’s press release. NYCFC nominally, albeit officially, partnered with Wilmington Hammerheads FC in 2015 and 2016.
The affiliation with NYCFC is supposed to afford San Antonio FC the “opportunity to strengthen their USL roster through player loans from NYCFC during the 2017 season.”
Apart from one infamous match for which NYCFC sent a squadron of players to the Hammerheads (a game in New York against Red Bulls II, the affiliate of City’s chief MLS rival), NYCFC does not have a record for generously loaning players to it USL affiliate. Three loaned players did see playing time for Wilmington in 2016, but none of them were loaned from NYCFC.
If the only thing that San Antonio FC hopes to gain from the partnership is an opportunity to get players on loan, then the team is in luck. An opportunity is all it is likely to receive.
In addition to the avenue for acquiring players on loan, “the partnership will facilitate the sharing of best practices between the two clubs.” This sounds like lip service, a safety net into which fans can fall when they realize their USL team is not reaping benefits of loaned players from its MLS affiliate.
If Wilmington did learn some best practices from NYCFC during their partnership, it did little to prevent the Hammerheads from self-relegating to the USL PDL following the 2016 season. San Antonio FC is looking to leave USL, but MLS is the designated landing spot.
MLS teams are required to affiliate with a USL franchise or stand up their own reserve team in the USL. NYCFC’s affiliation with Wilmington put a check in that box, but did little beyond that. Why would the affiliation with San Antonio be any different? And that is not necessarily a bad thing for San Antonio FC.