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Toronto FC partner with Wilmington Hammerheads for 2014 season

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Taking advantage of the relationship between Major League Soccer and USL Pro, Toronto FC have agreed their own partnership with a USL Pro club.

The clubs announced on Wednesday that TFC and the Wilmington Hammerheads have partnered together on a one-year deal. The deal calls for TFC to send a minimum of four players to the Hammerheads and creates a business relationship between the two clubs.

“We are very excited to partner with Wilmington Hammerheads FC and continue to enhance the development of professional footballers in North America,” said TFC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “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.”

By partnering with the Hammerheads, TFC has opted out of the MLS Reserve Division in 2014.

TFC joins Sporting Kansas City (Orlando City and OKC Energy FC), the New England Revolution (Rochester Rhinos), D.C. United (Richmond Kickers), the Philadelphia Union (Harrisburg City Islanders), the Columbus Crew (Dayton Dutch Lions), and the Houston Dynamo (Pittsburgh Riverhounds) as MLS clubs to form affiliations with a USL Pro club. Sporting KC used their deal to their advantage last year as Dom Dwyer went from a reserve to starting in the MLS Cup final by the end of the 2013 season.


What do you think of this news? Do you feel this is a smart decision for TFC? Think they’ll send out Hamilton, Aparicio, and the other Homegrown signings to Wilmington?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. surprised no one has partnered with Charleston Battery yet. they certainly have one of the nicest stadiums and longest legacies in USL PRO

  2. Why not Edmonton FC? Same country, more sensible affiliation, easier immigration transition for player movement. This way you have a potential visa issue on at least one leg of every potential send down-call up situation. Canadians would be OK to work in Toronto but in theory have to get a visa to work in Wilmington. Americans could work in Wilmington but have to get a visa for Toronto. If your affiliate is in Canada you already have them qualified to work in Canada once they start. But maybe EFC wants to maintain brand independence, thinks they have a MLS future.

    But then, why is Houston (Pittsburgh) not with San Antonio, the whole thing is ad hoc and not real rational.

    • I assume you mean FC Edmonton, and they are in the NASL, which has no partnership with MLS. The affiliate program is for USL-Pro teams only.

      • I understand your argument in terms of current deals, but 20 in one league and 13 in the other (soon to be minus one then plus two) doesn’t allow sufficient one-to-one relationships. If the goal is everyone has an affiliate, there are practical limits to exclusivity. At some point MLS has to either expand USL or push into NASL.

        To address the next objection, yes, the leagues also slotted into second and third division roles, but they are practical co-equals, and Cosmos are headed towards being the best funded of the bunch in the nominal bottom rung of the pro system (PDL aside). There is no practical reason to elevate USL over NASL when the talent is scattered among them.

        Mr. T’s explanation is interesting but basically telescopes down to the USL argument since I’m not suggesting EFC change leagues. I was saying why not EFC and the only sensible reason why not is exclusivity, which should give way to making numbers for one-to-one and locational sensibility.

      • Worth throwing in that after expansion MLS will be up to, what, 24 teams soon? Unless they have multiple affiliations like NDBL something has to give. I prefer one to one because in theory over time you might get affiliates willing to be more like MLB minors, part of a development chain where there might be more emphasis on preparing players for roles within a standardized system, as opposed to just an alternative place to play.

    • It may have been an oversight on your part, but the short answer to “Why not FC Edmonton?” is because they’re in NASL, and not part of the MLS-USL Pro relationship.

      The better question may be: will this strengthened affiliate relationship lead to USL Pro expansion in Canada? If so, I’d expect affiliate agreements to change…but that’s a future question.

    • FC Edmonton is in NASL. Currently USL Pro is not recognized by the Canadian Soccer Association to play in Canada. There was some talk about the PDL team Toronto Lynx moving to Hamilton Ont. and seeking recognition as first Cdn USL Pro club as well as becoming TFC’s affiliate, but plan is on hold due to some local stadium issues.

      There was some activity short of an affiliation with Pittsburgh last season but didn’t work out. The Riverhounds affiliated with Houston.

  3. This should be good for Wilmington. Some of their guys who just aren’t getting minutes should be able to gain some valuable experience and very needed playing time with Toronto.

    • I think you are misunderstanding (or misstating this). Reserves go from the MLS side (Toronto here) and get playing time in the USL (Wilmington). So, theoretically the USL team gets better players and the MLS team gets its younger players playing time to develop. Ideally it is good for both teams.

  4. Didn’t Columbus announce a partnership with the Dayton Dutch Lions? Will there be a MLS Reserves Divison this year? Sounds to me like more players (roster spots 19-30 who aren’t loaned out to affiliates) are getting less playing time.

      • Strike that comment on FCD. Apparently they are not fielding a USL Pro team in 2014. LA has been suspiciously quiet about their intentions as well.

    • If you take the 7 teams mentioned, throw in Columbus (Dayton), and either Portland or San Jose (in some legal battle to affiliate with Sacramento), plus possibly a Galaxy B team, then that would leave a maximum of nine teams left to compete in an MLS reserve division.


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