Competitive Reserves: Dos Santos, Wolyniec tout USL’s competition

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by ANTHONY J. MERCED

Since the inclusion of MLS reserve teams into the USL three years ago, the question of the league’s competitive viability has been debated by fans, journalists and pundits alike.

However, with the 2016 USL Championship game being played between two MLS2 franchises, questioning their competitive nature is no longer viable. In fact, it is a downright insult to the coaches who have led their sides to success.

Head coaches for Swope Park Rangers and New York Red Bull II, the two finalists in this year’s USL Championship game, have been able to achieve league success against independent clubs as well as other MLS2 sides.

FROM WOLYNIEC’S POINT OF VIEW …

Whether or not their methodology fits with the MLS mothership, both John Wolyniec and Marc dos Santos have reached the final with their own unique brand of soccer. Each has taken the pros and cons of the experience to create a winning formula and neither wants to hear about their sides not being competitive.

“If anybody is talking about them (MLS2 teams) not being competitive, then they need to stop talking that way,” said John Wolyniec on this week’s episode of the Raising Bulls podcast. “These teams are always going to be competitive.”

John Wolyniec has led New York Red Bull II to a record breaking season, setting benchmarks in points, wins and goals. The team, which is mostly comprised of academy prospects and MLS contracted youth talent, has been largely unchanged for the majority of the season and been able to handle any challenge the league has presented.

Overall, Wolyniec’s journey has mirrored his work with the team. It has been a slow progress with the need to prove himself at each step. The position of head coach for NYRB II was his biggest leap from youth coach to Division 3 gaffer. Now in his second season, not much has changed about his demeanor but the confidence in his club and what he looks to accomplish has never been clearer.

“There’s certain advantages in the way they can reach into multiple team’s rosters,” said Wolyniec when discussing the differences between independent and MLS2 sides. “There are also some drawbacks with being an MLS2 team. Some of the things I deal with are changing personnel and some different goals at the beginning of the season as far as bringing academy players in or getting certain players minutes.”

DOS SANTOS WEIGHS IN

Marc Dos Santos road to the USL Championship was very different. Just one year prior, the 39-year-old was spearheading the Ottawa Fury’s hunt for an NASL Championship. His work with the new Canadian side made them a force in 2015 with his aggressive style gave his team an unmistakable identity.

The move to Swope Park Rangers was a significant step for him and the league, bringing a highly competitive mindset to the developmental game.

“Everything is based on results,” said Dos Santos when speaking about the differences between the NASL and USL. “When I came to Swope Park Rangers, I wanted to have the experience of learning about MLS, being around an MLS team.”

The road to his second consecutive final wasn’t an easy one. Reserve sides like Swope Park Rangers find a balance of competitiveness and development while also adhering to the needs of the MLS club.

“The experience of being a coach on a B-team was something I never had in my life,” said Dos Santos. “I had to juggle players coming down from the first team. Players going up to the first team. A lot of instability in the roster because of that. I think it helped me stretch personally as a coach and become much better.”

Dos Santos won’t be long for the league as he will join the NASL’s newest team the San Fransisco Deltas in 2017. Many have pointed to the lack of support from the fanbase or perhaps the unique challenges of MLS2 franchises as a reason for his departure. However, Dos Santos points to his teams competitiveness as a positive to take from this unique venture.

“We stuck to our principles and our model of play,” said Dos Santos about remaining competitive through the challenges. “[We] hHave a clear idea of play and a clear identity helps everyone in the roster — even if it becomes unstable sometimes.