Toronto FC announce USL PRO partnership with Wilmington Hammerheads

Ryan Nelsen in the rain

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USA Today sports

Add Toronto FC to the growing list of MLS teams with USL PRO affiliates.

TFC announced Wednesday that the club has signed a one-year partnership agreement with Wilmington Hammerheads FC.

“We are very excited to partner with Wilmington Hammerheads FC and continue to enhance the development of professional footballers in North America,” Toronto general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said in a statement. “The deal represents the first time our club has established a full development trajectory for our Academy players from the U-12 level up through the first team.

"On the first team, it can be a challenge getting younger players sufficient match experience required for their development during the course of a season. This partnership with Wilmington will allow our players to earn those valuable match minutes and continue their growth during the season in a professional environment in USL PRO. Today we have filled a developmental gap within our club.”

As part of the agreement, Toronto FC will loan a minimum of four players to Wilmington during the course of the season. The deal will also forge a business relationship between Toronto and Wilmington, including the sharing of coaching best practices as Toronto FC coaches will be able to observe Wilmington training sessions and matches. Wilmington coaches will also attend Toronto FC’s preseason in Florida next month.

As a result of the partnership, Toronto FC will opt out of the MLS Reserve League for the 2014 season.

Several MLS teams already have USL PRO affiliates, including two recent additions  in the Columbus Crew (Dayton Dutch Lions) and Houston Dynamo (Pittsburgh Riverhounds).