Fresno FC announced the deal Friday morning. Fresno’s new pro team starts play in March 2018 in the minor-league United Soccer League.
Fresno FC said the affiliation agreement with the MLS franchise creates a pathway from USL to MLS for players. As part of the agreement, the MLS side will have the ability to sign several players to USL contracts to play for Fresno FC. In addition, all players on the Fresno FC roster will be monitored and evaluated for MLS opportunities.
The Whitecaps announced Friday that their USL team, Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, will not return for the 2018 season, opening the door for a one-to-one relationship between Fresno and Vancouver.
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Fresno FC general manager Frank Yallop, a former Canadian men’s national team head coach, said his club worked with Vancouver on the hiring of Smith.
Whitecaps FC President Bob Lenarduzzi praised Fresno in a news release: “We expect that the internal competition for playing time at Fresno FC, along with their passionate fan base, will provide a tremendous and challenging environment for our top young prospects.”
Lenarduzzi called Yallop a longtime friend and added, “He understands both the MLS and Canadian soccer environments, and knows what it will take to push players into our first team.”
The Whitecaps started in 1974 as an original member of the North American Soccer League, the precursor to MLS. Vancouver has had a form of pro soccer ever since, joining MLS as an expansion team in 2011.
The USL is adding five expansion teams (including Fresno) next season for a total of 34, and has two more clubs ready to join in 2019.
MLS has 22 teams with Los Angeles FC ready to start play in 2019.
Fresno plans to play home matches at Chukchansi Park.