Editor's note: Welcome to The Goat Parade the contribution of Kyle Kepner. Kyle writes for Indomitable City Soccer and is one of the foremost USL experts around. You can follow him at @KyleJKepner on Twitter.
LA Galaxy II will face the Rochester Rhinos in the USL Final tonight (4:30 pm PT, ESPN3/YouTube), and to mark the first such appearance by an MLS organization in the short history of the two leagues' partnership, a report of each MLS reserve club is in order.
Ranking the "MLS2" clubs in the USL is a tricky business. Trophies are nice, but the aim of each organization, if they're honest, is to get minutes for fringe MLS players and good looks at others. Lacking a superior means for measuring one season's success in that regard, the clubs below are ranked by on-field performance this year, with the total number of players receiving minutes in parentheses.
1. LA Galaxy II (40 players)
Los Dos followed up last year's remarkable run to the semifinal with another excellent season and a place in this year's championship match. They finished 2015 in fourth place in the Western Conference with the highest point total among MLS-controlled sides. Already a Galaxy veteran at 20, Jack McBean put in his most consistent professional season to date, and first-year man Ariel Lassiter led the team with 11 goals.
2. New York Red Bulls II (37 players)
In the playoff hunt for nearly the entire season, this last-minute addition to the 2015 USL party got stronger as the year went on under first-year head coach John Wolyniec. NYRBII hosted and defeated the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the first round of this season's playoffs before going down a man and falling at eventual Eastern Conference champion Rochester. 2015 draft pick Manolo Sanchez and fellow first-team loanee Marius Obekop were standout performers.
3. Seattle Sounders 2 (37 players)
Sounders 2 received great fan support throughout the season as expected, but perhaps more surprising was the squad's outright domination of the Western Conference over several stretches. Indeed, the offensive production of 2015 draft pick Andy Craven earned him an MLS contract mid-year. S2 faded down the stretch however, and were defeated in Colorado Springs in the first round of the playoffs.
4. Portland Timbers 2 (28 players)
Looking the part of a contender early on, T2 battled mediocrity for most of the season, and fell short of the playoffs. 2015 draft pick Kharlton Belmar was a revelation, netting 12 times and adding 3 assists in 28 appearances, while Jake Gleeson was excellent in goal, recording 77 saves in 20 games.
5. Vancouver Whitecaps 2 (34 players)
The entire Whitecaps organization was young this year, but WFC2 had a great season developing players, such as 2015 draft pick Tim Parker, who is now a contributing member of the first team, and Whitecaps Residency alum Marco Bustos, who at 19 was the team's co-leader with 7 goals.
6. Real Monarchs SLC (31 players)
Bringing their wildly successful academy model into the pros, the RSL organization's young guns started slow this season, winning few games but rarely getting blown out. A late-season surge featuring beautiful build-up play showed how dangerous this team can be. United States U-20 international Justen Glad logged seven strong appearances, while the signings of Emery Welshman and Max Rauhofer added experience and firepower to the organization.
7. FC Montreal (42 players)
The most development-minded of the MLS-controlled sides this year, FCM began with mostly a U-23 squad, and results reflected it. As time went on, head coach Philippe Eullaffroy and his charges found a groove and put together some impressive unbeaten runs. Homegrown goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau recorded four shutouts in his 11 appearances.
8. Toronto FC II (40 players)
The "Young Reds" saw limited results in the standings, but provided a consistent stage for the performances of valuable academy grads and Canada prospects such as Jordan Hamilton, Mo Babouli, and Quillan Roberts. This is good news for the future of star-studded TFC and the Canadian National Team.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!