Earlier this week, MLS officially announced their plans to form a new third division league, set to launch in 2022. This week, we’ll take a look at three different ways FC Dallas and North Texas SC may approach the new league.
Before we get into the list, here is some quick background information on the new league:
- Will operate as a USSF-sanctioned third division league, the same level as USL League One and NISA
- Launches in 2022 with plans for every MLS team to have a reserve team in the league in 2023
- Some reserve teams may be based in the same city and stadium as the first team, others may be based outside the first team’s city.
- MLS plans to approach some independent clubs, likely those currently participating in MLS NEXT, to fill out the league.
- There are not any known age restrictions for squads. Early reports about this league called it a U-23 league, but that does not seem to be the case.
With that out of the way, let’s look at three different ways FC Dallas may choose to handle their reserve team in regards to the new league.
1) Move North Texas SC to MLS D3
This is by far the most likely action that the club will take, simply moving North Texas SC out of USL League One and into the new MLS D3 league. FC Dallas and Hunt Sports Group would retain full ownership of North Texas SC, operations would stay the same, but the club would be playing games largely against other MLS reserve teams. Although this is most likely, it isn’t necessarily ideal. Part of the reason that reserve teams in leagues like USL Championship or USL League One are appealing to clubs for development purposes is that it gives clubs the opportunity to put young players up against grown men who are fighting to keep their careers going in the third tier of American soccer. There is a level of grit and tenacity at that level that isn’t found in youth competitions or in U-23 leagues. MLS has said they plan to try to involve some independent teams to provide some of that competition and this is also likely why the league does not look like it will be a strictly U-23 league, allowing for older MLS players to play with the reserve team. Even with those drawbacks however, this seems like a likely option. The only question here is if North Texas SC moves immediately in 2022 or waits until 2023 and plays one last season in USL League One.
2) Keep North Texas SC in USL League One, create another reserve team for MLS D3
This option is not very likely at all but is an interesting one to ponder. In this scenario, FC Dallas would retain full ownership of North Texas SC, keeping them in USL League One, while spinning up another reserve team (let’s call them FCD2 for now) to play in the new MLS D3. FCD2 would function as a more direct reserve team, with players not in the match day squad playing in the reserve league, with some academy players mixed in. North Texas SC’s role in the development pipeline would shift in this case, becoming more of a landing point for young foreign signings, such as Hope Kodzo or Caiser Gomes, or young Americans outside of the FC Dallas academy system, such as Nicky Hernandez. Of the three options, this one would probably be the most beneficial in pure development terms, allowing the club to have a wide breadth of options available in terms of where to send players to play and open up avenues in their scouting as well.
There are two major roadblocks for this approach however: cost and the possibility that MLS would not allow their clubs to operate multiple reserve teams in this manner. The cost is the most obvious, this would essentially have the club running three different teams. They could surely save some money on FCD2 by largely having them associated with the first team but there are still costs associated with operating the team and particularly in using a stadium (likely Toyota Stadium) for the games. The front office may decide that the developmental benefits do not outweigh the extra costs of operating all three teams. Additionally, there is a chance that MLS requires their clubs to only have a single reserve side in their D3 league, along with the possibility that USL themselves stone wall any MLS reserve teams once the new MLS league gets going. So, all in all, chances on this one are pretty low, but it would be pretty cool to see.
3) Sell North Texas SC to another local owner, create a new reserve team for MLS D3
This option is probably the least likely of the three, but it is another interesting one to ponder. This would likely only come into place if FC Dallas was to see a lot of value in having the two separate development clubs like option 2 but were stonewalled by MLS or USL rules. This would involve selling North Texas SC to a local owner (this is just to ensure that the club doesn’t move out of the area) and keeping them in USL League One. Obviously, this would detach North Texas SC from a direct relationship with FC Dallas, but would come with an agreement for Dallas to be able to regularly loan players out to North Texas SC and also generally have a partnership between the two clubs. With North Texas SC out of the FCD umbrella, this would obviously mean that FCD2 would need to be created for MLS D3. This would likely result in FCD2 looking a bit more like North Texas SC currently does, with a lot of academy players and young homegrowns making up the squads with some other homegrowns sent out on loan to North Texas SC.
As I said, this is pretty unlikely and poses a lot of challenges, largely around finding someone willing to buy North Texas SC, as well as managing the relationship between the ownership groups long term. Long term, it could become difficult to continue to really use North Texas SC as a developmental type of partner, especially in the uncertain US Soccer landscape. The Hunts also generally seem to like to keep things close to the chest, so finding a partner that is both local and that they would trust in this kind of arrangement would be a major hurdle. Overall, the most unlikely of the potential options.
Do you think there is any chance that North Texas SC does not just simply move to the new MLS D3 league? How do you feel about the new MLS D3 league in general? Will this be better for player development? Sound off in the comments below!
Featured Image: FCDallas.com