Colorado Rapids Will Not Field MLS Reserve League Team in 2021

MLS Reserve League

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – The Colorado Rapids will not be fielding a team in the MLS Reserve League in 2021, should it begin play, Executive Vice President and General Manager Padraig Smith told Last Word on Soccer today.

Colorado Rapids Will Not Field MLS Reserve League Team in 2021

MLS announced the return of the Reserve League last year, functioning primarily as a U-23 league to help academy products and younger players develop and get playing time. This would be an alternative to MLS teams fielding a squad in the USL Championship or League One or having a USL affiliate.

“We will join any Under-23 league when we feel the time is right. It won’t be in 2021, hopefully it will be 2022. There’s a lot that has to happen in advance of that,” Smith told Last Word.

The new iteration of the Reserve League was aiming to begin this year but nothing has been announced with the start to the MLS season still up in the air.

USL Affiliation with the Switchbacks Stronger than ever:

The Rapids will maintain their USL Championship affiliation with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, which has existed for two seasons and was mutually beneficial in 2020.

“We needs to be able to do [youth development] right. That’s what’s critical from our perspective. We have a wonderful relationship with with the Colorado Springs Switchbacks and other teams across the USL,” said Smith.

Last year, several Rapids DA products signed contracts with the USL club and several Rapids first team signees were on loan to be depth options as well. The Switchbacks are set to have a breakout year with a new downtown stadium opening up and Brendan Burke in his first year as head coach.

Other options still available:

As Smith alluded to, the club has started to cultivate relationships with other USL Championship clubs. In recent years, players have been loaned out to Charlotte Independence and Memphis 901. In the event it’s better for the player, they’re open to loaning players to other USL clubs with the Switchbacks already having a plethora of Burgundy Boys at their disposal.

“From a development standpoint, it’s critical in terms of our ability to take those elite level prospects at 16, 17-years-old and play them against men,” Smith said.

A full U-23 team at present is unnecessary given the options available to the young players at present. If they or the club want them close by, there’s the Springs where they can get tested against older senior players in the second division, as appose to players of a similar age in a U-23 league. When relevant, they’ve shown the ability to find players a home on loan elsewhere.

Last Word: Not now but soon?

If they find themselves with too many players for that setup to work or players needing a different environment, things could change as early as next year. The last few years, the Rapids have been building up their academy and a pipeline to the first team. A complete American Soccer Pyramid in 2022 (including a Rapids U-23 team and Northern Colorado FC) would set the club up for sustained development of Homegrown first team players.

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