One of the toughest parts about being a young player in MLS is trying to get playing time. Playing time breeds experience and growth as a player. The problem always ends up being who is ahead of you on the depth chart. Depending on the team, a young player may find himself as a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th option on the depth chart. While the reserve league can help get a few minutes here and there, it's no substitute for regular play week in and week out. A US Open Cup game may also get youngsters some playing time, but again it's hard to fall into a regular rhythm when you are only playing a couple of times per month in a truly competitive match.
MLS just announced a new loan system that permits loans between MLS clubs. That's right, a player that can't get playing time for his own club has the chance to go elsewhere within MLS and get some valuable playing time. That's pretty unique to say the least. Additionally, teams can use the loaning of players as a part of a trade. This opens up quite a bit of flexibility for all teams involved and introduces a fresh new element into the league.
This is not a wide open policy. Stipulations do exist. Loaned players must be 24 years of age or younger. The loans must occur within the primary MLS transfer window, in which the date varies each year obviously. Rather than loans being for a specified length of time as we see in England, the loan runs through the end of the MLS season. So, if a player is tearing it up, his home club can't just recall him before the season has ended. I do want to point out that this means the entire MLS season. If your club drops out of the playoffs before the MLS Cup, that player stays on loan until the Cup game is over.
The last couple of stipulations are that roster slots and budget issues are negotiated between the two clubs. Finally, there aren't any limits as to how many players can be loaned in our out during a season. This rule takes effect immediately, which shouldn't surprise MLS fans that are used to new or changing rules debuting during the middle of a season.
I do have to applaud MLS here though. I think this particular rule not only brings a unique tool to the league and its teams, but in the case of the Fire it could really be an asset. Of course, in an ideal world every young Fire player would get a chance to play, shine, and become a star. We all know that's not a realistic statement. This new rule could have helped the Fire in the past, and could really help us now. How so?
Well, the first example is the man I pictured in the photo at the head of this article. We should all remember Kwame Watson-Siriboe. The young defender never got a real chance to show what he could do with the Men in Red. After a loan to FC Tampa Bay, the Fire ended up dealing him to Real Salt Lake for a 4th round 2014 MLS SuperDraft pick. And just like that his time in the Windy City was over, before it ever started. Unfortunately, the Fire did not see what Fire legend and former player C.J. Brown saw in the young player. Brown had a big hand in bringing him to RSL. And the move has paid off as KWS has done very well for himself so far.
Imagine if this rule had been in place a couple of years ago. Rather than languishing on the bench, we would have had the chance to send KWS out on a loan. While he would have been playing for another MLS team, he would have been gaining regular playing time and extremely valuable experience. And I don't think it would be very hard to find a team needing defensive help in the league. By now he could be back in the Windy City and helping a Fire team struggling desperately with back line injuries and shaky play.
While this is a nice scenario to envision for Fire fans, there is no use complaining about a rule that wasn't in effect back then. Instead, the team should plan to use this new rule to the utmost potential in the future. I will give you another example from the current Fire team: Yazid Atouba. I know, I know, right now we can really use him at times on the senior team. That speaks more to the lack of depth built on the left wing than anything though. While he is a very exciting player and prospect, he is still very young and raw. If Dilly Duka steps it up and he can't get regular playing time, a loan within MLS could be a great option for Atouba to get some valuable playing time. Hell, even with Duka being out and all of our injury problems, Atouba has only played 55 minutes so far this year. And with a healthy Victor Pineda chomping at the bit, one would have to figure he won't see much time soon.
Beyond Fire players that could take advantage of loans, we also have to consider the opposite. There are young players within the league that could help the Fire. While I don't know other rosters as intimately as ours, wouldn't it be nice to be able to work out a loan for someone to help at RB? What about some more depth at CB, especially if Arne is out for an extended period of time? Honestly, the announcement of this new rule almost couldn't come at a better time for the Men in Red. While we are all talking about potential moves this summer, we need to take advantage of this loan system before the deadline (which is May 6). That means there is a little over two weeks to bring in some badly needed depth. I think this is an option the team needs to seriously explore.
After all, if we put all of our eggs in the summer transfer window basket, what happens if we are too far behind the 8 ball by then? While the optimist in me says the team is turning it around, we also have to consider where we could be at by the summer window if the team continues to struggle. We all hope that is not the case but digging too big of a hole early can be lethal. And the Fire could certainly use some bodies right now as we all know. From my view, I think it could be very beneficial to the team to look at this option seriously. There are some really good players 24 years of age or less that could have greatly helped the past few weeks.
Whether the Fire decide to utilize the new system or not, I definitely think this is something that could really be a boon for a team that knows how to maximize the system correctly in the future. It opens up new possibilities to keep players that would have otherwise left (KWS), as well as helping out in an injury crisis as we have now. The next couple of weeks before the deadline figure to be very interesting.