Yesterday the MLS announced its reserve league fixtures. Why is this important you ask? Well, since the Fire opted not to have a USL Pro affiliate or a standalone team in USL Pro, the reserve league is the only way players outside the first team will get playing time. Here is the Fire's schedule for the 2014 reserve league:
|March 24||New York Red Bulls||11 a.m.||Toyota Park practice field|
|April 21||Rochester Rhinos||12 noon||Toyota Park|
|April 25||Charlotte Eagles||7 p.m.||UNC-Charlotte|
|May 11||New York Red Bulls||10 a.m.||Red Bulls training facility|
|May 18||Richmond Kickers||5:30 p.m.||Toyota Park|
|June 21||Wilmington Hammerheads||7:30 p.m.||Legion Stadium|
|August 17||Montreal Impact||10:30 a.m.||Stade Saputo|
|August 31||FC Dallas||11 a.m.||Toyota Park practice field|
|September 15||FC Dallas||11 a.m.||Toyota Stadium practice|
|October 6||Montreal Impact||11 a.m.||Toyota Park practice field|
So that's 10 games for the reserve team. Throw in some friendlies versus Spurs, possibly UIC or other colleges and maybe at the most the reserve team will play maybe 14 games. In my opinion, this is why the mandatory affiliation of MLS with USL Pro in 2015 is necessary. The MLS players loaned out to USL Pro teams will get the chance to play in 28 games. Yes, that's right, they will get the chance to play in a league that will play starting in March and all the way through September, week-in and week-out. This kind of experience could have helped players like Yazid Atouba, Orr Barouch, Victor Pineda, and Marco Franco refine their play in meaningful games. It could have prepared them for the rigors of an MLS campaign instead of seeing actual game play once maybe twice a month.
If you look at the schedule for the Fire, they have a reserve game on March 24th and then the next one isn't until April 21st. And then a big gap during the World Cup, June 21st to August 17th - a whole 2 months without a reserve game. Yes, I know they play Spurs during that time, but that game is meaningless when it comes to a player's development. In terms of investment in youth development, it seems the the Fire made a bad choice going the reserve-league route in 2014. Here's hoping a lack of games won't put a damper on the young players' progression as they look to fight for a spot in the first team.