COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – For any MLS team, an affiliate with a USL Pro team will become increasingly important with the looming departure of the Reserve League. But for the young, still-developing Colorado Rapids, that relationship is extra-critical.
That’s what made Wednesday’s announcement from the Rapids of their affiliation partnership with USL Pro side Charlotte Independence, pending league approval, that much more important.
“I think it’s great for the club,” Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni told MLSsoccer.com of the move on Wednesday. “I think any of the leagues that can build into the first team are going to be critical for all the players; also for rehabilitation purposes, getting guys that are coming off a long injury to get in a few games out there. I’m really excited about all the avenues it’s going to help to grow the brand.”
With the majority of the Rapids’ roster under the age of 25 (15 of 28 players on the current roster are 24 or younger), minutes simply aren’t available for all of Colorado’s younger players, a point of concern at times for Mastroeni’s side this season. Currently, only striker Danny Mwanga is on loan (New York Cosmos), but a rash of injuries, particularly defensively, has kept Colorado from being able to send more players away for loans this summer.
But that looks to change next year with the new partnership.
“We have a super-young team. It’s a great opportunity,” Mastroeni said. “It’s good for our team to be getting young guys opportunities when they’re not playing here, to be getting games, because true development happens in between the lines when it’s game time.”
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The Rapids have expressed an interest in bringing in more veterans during the looming offseason, a strategy that could leave more younger players looking for minutes next year. But now, the Rapids have a place to turn to give them that time.
“You can train all you want, but there’s a different type of pressure, a different type of mentality that’s needed that can only be obtained in having an affiliate like Charlotte,” Mastroeni said. “It’ll really be conducive to the growth of our young talent.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.