Vancouver to pursue USL PRO club for 2015


Vancouver Whitecaps, the Charleston Battery’s 2014 MLS affiliate club, on Tuesday announced its intent to field its own USL PRO affiliate club in a Vancouver suburb. If the remaining details can be worked out in time, the new club would join the league for the 2015 season.

“We are excited about the possibility of bringing a USL PRO club to our own backyard in New Westminster,” said Whitecaps FC president Bob Lenarduzzi. “At the same time, we have a fantastic relationship with the Battery and will explore all options with respect to our partnership and the development of players.”

Whitecaps officials had previously informed the Battery that they were researching the option of fielding their own team, and discussed their upcoming announcement with Battery staff last week, said Battery President Andrew Bell.

“Our two clubs have a strong relationship that dates back to our time in the old A-League, and we share a similar philosophy,” Bell said. “Whitecaps have one of the best player-development programs in Major League Soccer, and Charleston Battery have a reputation for producing players who can step in and play at the MLS level.”

Vancouver loaned three players to Charleston in 2013, the first year of the MLS-USL PRO Cooperation Agreement, but the clubs didn’t sign a formal affiliation agreement until Jan. 23, 2014. The agreement between the leagues specifies that that each MLS club must either affiliate with a USL PRO partner or field its own USL PRO franchise before the start of the 2015 season.

The Los Angeles Galaxy became the first MLS team to launch its own affiliate when the LA Galaxy II team (“Los Dos”) joined USL PRO in 2014.

All current MLS-USL PRO affiliation deals are limited to one year, and require the MLS side to loan at least four players to their affiliate.

The distance between Charleston and Vancouver – the longest distance between any affiliation pair – was always a consideration, Bell said. But both parties initially believed that the benefits of their unique partnership would outweigh the drawbacks of geography.

Vancouver sent Charleston eight players during the 2014 season – some of them on loan, others as unsigned prospects who eventually signed Battery contracts. But as the season wore on and Vancouver began recalling players, the Whitecaps front office began considering the benefits of having its affiliate team in suburban New Westminster, Bell said.

The Galaxy, for example, manages the rosters of both its clubs on a week-to-week basis, Bell said. And having a club in Canada would cut down on the complexities of international soccer paperwork for the MLS club.

“We certainly see it from their perspective,” Bell said. “From our side, I’m sure there are other potential partners out there if Whitecaps move ahead for 2015. But we’re in no way ruling out another year with Vancouver if their plans for the new club can’t be finalized in time for next season.”