With the race heating up for USL PRO clubs to affiliate with Major League Soccer teams, the expansion Sacramento Republic took advantage of their position on the West Coast by affiliating with not one, but two MLS teams.
As announced on Thursday, the Republic will be affiliated with both the Portland Timbers and the San Jose Earthquakes for the 2014 season, with each MLS team sending a minimum of two players on loan to Sacramento. Neither Portland nor San Jose will participate in the MLS Reserve League. Other MLS-USL PRO affiliate agreements have included MLS sides sending at least four players on loan.
The Republic are entering their first season and plan to host matches at an 8,000-seat, multi-use facility at the California Exposition & State Fair, commonly known as Cal Expo, in Sacramento. That agreement is pending approval by the Cal Expo board of directors. Former US international Preki, who starred in MLS with Miami and Kansas City and coached both Toronto and Chivas USA, is the Sacramento head coach.
In a press release on Thursday, San Jose also announced plans to field an amateur team in the Premier Development League, although it did not specify a timeline.
"We are excited to team up with Republic FC as our USL PRO affiliate," Earthquakes president Dave Kaval said in a statement. “Establishing a USL PRO affiliation is a critical step in our continued investment in player development that includes our Academy, our PDL team, and our Homegrown player efforts. Beyond the player-development benefits, we feel that it is important to help develop professional soccer in Sacramento with an eye to eventually making it a home for its very own MLS team."
Both Portland and San Jose finished under .500 in Reserve League play last season, but San Jose saw teenager Tommy Thompson lead the club in assists and signed him as the club's first Homegrown player earlier this week after the 18-year-old played his freshman season at Indiana University. Portland already fields a PDL team and recently signed defender Bryan Gallego, the Timbers U-23s' 2013 Player of the Year, as a Homegrown player.
“We are pleased to form an affiliation with Sacramento Republic FC for 2014,” Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson said. “This partnership allows us the ability to aid in the development of players by getting them more consistent playing time in a competitive environment while helping Republic FC strive for success on the field.”
The agreement leaves only four USL PRO clubs – Charleston Battery, Charlotte Eagles, LA Blues, and Phoenix FC – without an affiliation agreement. MLS clubs who have affiliated with USL PRO clubs are: Columbus (Dayton Dutch Lions), D.C. United (Richmond KIckers), Houston (Pittsburgh Riverhounds), New England Revolution (Rochester Rhinos), Philadelphia (Harrisburg City Islanders), Sporting Kansas City (Oklahoma City Energy, Orlando City), and Toronto FC (Wilmington Hammerheads).
“We are excited to partner with the Timbers and Earthquakes in an effort to develop talent on the field, emulate each club’s business success and eventually garner an MLS franchise of our own," said Sacramento Republic president Warren Smith. “Our organization is twice blessed with the ability to learn from not one, but two MLS clubs, their experienced operating teams and engaged, passionate supporters.
"This affiliate agreement provides Sacramento Republic FC, as well as the entire Sacramento region, one of the most talented USL PRO clubs in the league and a MLS vision for our community.”