Sporting Kansas City has a farm team.
The club announced a two-year agreement Wednesday with Orlando City SC, making the USL Pro team in Florida an official affiliate of Sporting KC.
The partnership is part of a wider arrangement — also announced Wednesday — between Major League Soccer and USL Pro, the third tier of U.S. soccer.
USL Pro will integrate the MLS Reserve League into its schedule, but teams like Sporting KC, which have a direct USL Pro affiliate, will no longer participate in the MLS Reserve League.
Instead, a minimum of four Sporting KC players will be loaned to Orlando City throughout the season.
“Obviously, I can’t say what results it’s going to yield for sure, but we’re willing to take the leap and try it,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. “This model is in place a lot of places around the world and it’s worked, so we’re hopeful it can work here too.
“We have a good relationship with Orlando City. Between our two organizations, there’s a lot of synergy. We have a lot of the same goals and we wanted to partner with somebody who has some of the same culture and ideas on the playing side and business side.”
It’s a partnership that took root during Sporting KC’s preseason visit to the Orlando area last winter for the Disney Pro Soccer Classic.
Sporting KC then hosted the Lions during the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Now, the teams will share players, facilities and scouting reports, among other things.
“We wanted to branch out and try a couple different ideas,” Vermes said. “We both understand what our objectives are here. At the end, it’s going to be a great proposition. Our guys will get to play regularly and all those games will be part of the USL Pro league schedule. That’s what they need, they need that kind of competition to develop.”
The deal also makes sense from a financial standpoint. Sporting KC saves on the travel costs associated with the Reserve League, while Orlando City saves on payroll by bringing in top-flight talent off the books.
“It’s a win-win for both financially, but the biggest benefit we hope to see from the agreement will come from development of the players,” Vermes said.
Sporting KC won’t decide which players it allocates to Orlando City until late February at the earliest.
“We’ll probably give them a pool of players,” Vermes said. “From that group, they might keep four or five guys, depending on what their needs are. I don’t want to make it a one-way partnership here. It’s not a dictatorship. There’s a lot of things that will go into those decisions, though, and hopefully it will based on the best interests of both teams.”
Given Orlando City’s MLS ambitions, the partnership might not be long-lived, but Vermes is hopeful it can still be fruitful.
“We feel in the short term leading up to that it’s a real positive, because they have some very strong business goals,” he said. “That means they are going to be spending the time scouting players and developing players so they can be strong enough to make that transition.”
As of Wednesday, Sporting KC was the only club to announce an affiliate agreement with a USL Pro team, but the New England Revolution, Philadelphia Union and D.C. United were rumored to be close to similar deals.