Come 2014, the Houston Dynamo's young players will have a home in the Steel City. On Tuesday, the clubs officially announced an affiliation agreement that will see the Major League Soccer side allocate players to the USL PRO club in 2014.
MLSsoccer.com first reported in October that the Dynamo were looking to strike an agreement with a third-division side as part of Major League Soccer’s agreement with the USL PRO. With several clubs available to work with, the structure and stability of Pittsburgh ultimately made the most sense.
“They’ve got a good ownership structure and a good front office and a great stadium in a great location,” Dynamo president Chris Canetti told MLSsoccer.com. “We like the message that we’ve heard from the front office and the technical staff and overall felt like it’s a good fit and a great place to send our players to develop.”
The affiliation will allow the Dynamo to assign four to six players to the Riverhounds' roster on loan throughout the season that the club will be able to call back when needed.
Houston made similar moves last season by sending former Dynamo Alex Dixon to the Tampa Bay Rowdies for a month and also sending Brian Ownby to the Richmond Kickers. The move paid off well for Ownby, who made three appearances for the Dynamo after returning from loan.
Unfortunately, a knee injury derailed his progress, but the loan put him in a good position to succeed, which is part of the reason the Dynamo chose this route.
“We feel like when we see some of these players go away, like Ownby, they come back improved,” said Canetti. “At the end of the day, we feel like sending someone to a club where they can be ingrained and get in that club week-in-and-week-out is the best thing for their development.”
Houston will be able to assign players to the franchise where they will train and work their way into the team and help the club battle for points. It's up to Pittsburgh head coach Justin Evans to determine how much Houston’s assigned players contribute, however.
“We’re not going to dictate to them how to play or who to play,” Canetti said. “It’s their team. [Our players] will have to go there and earn spots in the team and play. They’ll have to earn their minutes there as well.”
The move will also mark the end of Houston’s participation in the MLS Reserve League. According to Canetti, the Reserve League did not offer the same opportunities as a deal with the Riverhounds. The infrequency of games and the cost of operating a reserve team factored into the decision to move to the loan structure of their new agreement.
“We just felt like the Reserve League was becoming a difficult challenge,” Canetti said. “We felt it would be better for our players to be in an environment where they’d be training for a game every single week and not just eight or 10 times a year. We want this to be an environment that’s more of a link to what our environment is like.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.