For months we have speculated whether Atlanta United 2 would be part of the MLS 2 team exodus from the United Soccer Leagues following the news of a new MLS Reserve League launching in 2022. This week, we got a bit more clarity on which way the club may be leaning.
A Texas-based soccer blog called The Texas Striker reports that Atlanta United 2, New York Redbulls II, LA Galaxy II, and DC United’s Loudon FC will remain in the USL. While there is no official word from the club or the league yet, these four MLS clubs have come to rely on the high quality of competition in the US second division to mould their young talent, get valuable minutes for reserves, and audition potential new reserves for the future of the club.
What started as a beneficial relationship between MLS and USL that helped spur the rapid growth of US Soccer’s lower divisions quickly became an awkward relationship of competing philosophies. On one side, independent clubs fielded older and more experienced sides that vied for championships. But for many MLS-affiliates, the goal was entirely different with young and inexperienced talent rostered with MLS Reserve players seeking personal growth rather than wins. This often led to lop-sided match-ups and dismal play in front of nearly empty stadiums. But there were exceptions. LA Galaxy II, NY Redbulls II, and Toronto FC II fielded competitive teams and were in the hunt for post-season glory. After several formative years of soul-searching, the 2s seem to have emerged into this upper tier of MLS sides.
It is still unclear whether Atlanta United intends to form an MLS Reserve League side in addition to the 2s but (as we have pointed out in previous articles) the club’s young homegrown talent could certainly benefit from the regular playing time in the new U-23 league.
With separate 2s and MLS Reserve League teams, Atlanta United will have greater flexibility to train academy players, draft picks, foreign loanees, and intriguing gambles without compromising the development of any of those players to fit a particular model. Top academy talent can still play for the 2s but with the Reserve League, they can get a taste of higher-level competition before being thrown on the field against 30-year-olds. Atlanta also has more room to acquire compelling loan targets like Rocco Ríos Novo, Connor Stanley, Darwin Matheus, and Mathias Benítez with the 2s since they will not be competing for as many live minutes with academy players in the current model.
There is plenty to be excited about here so we will keep you apprised of updates as they happen.