1. Player development.
I mean, this is the big one, isn't it? We all talk about how great player development should be, and how we need to make it the highest priority, but this takes a demonstrable step toward that. It's about more than just the players on the low end of the totem pole, too — it's about the players we don't know yet that might not be ready for MLS play.
Luke Mulholland is an excellent example of player who developed extremely well in the lower leagues. There are many, many others. Let's look to their stories for guidance as we map out our future.
2. An academy pipeline.
As we look at our academy, we see a lot of young, talented players. As we look at the first team, we see players like Justen Glad and Sebastian Saucedo who, in their first seasons, probably aren't going to be ready for MLS play. USL Pro helps to remedy that. But it's more than just Jordan Allen, Glad, Saucedo, Benji Lopez, Lalo Fernandez, and the gang — it's about those players at the academy whose names don't jump off the sheet. Players who have played reserves minutes but haven't been the stars of the show, but might develop into outstanding players on their own.
(Now, we do think Justen Glad will very, very quickly be ready for first-team minutes, but that's another story.)
3. Greater scouting opportunities.
As we look for new and better American players who have flown under the radar, we've spent plenty of time looking at USL Pro and NASL. We've found a few gems there, and again, Luke Mulholland is a great example here. And as much as we're trying to develop our own players, it's still incredibly important to bring in players from outside the system — there's too much value in outside experience to avoid it. We could have the best 30 academy graduates in the nation on an MLS roster, but we would need the presence of a few players to check assumptions, to keep things from becoming too navel-gazing and self-serving, and to bring new playing approaches into the system.
4. More soccer.
With at least 17 home matches (plus a guaranteed three for CONCACAF Champions League in 2015) in MLS and 14 home matches in USL Pro, we could be looking at upwards of 34 non-playoff matches. That's not just fantastic — it's perfection in a bottle.
5. Away trips.
We're hopeful that USL Pro and MLS schedules will coincide to such a point that double-dipping on away trips becomes not just a possibility but a tempting reality. Imagine: Sacramento Republic to San Jose Earthquakes to LA Galaxy. Throw in Portland and Seattle, and if the stars coincide properly, you could do an ultimate Pacific Coast tour.