Sporting Kansas City announced on Friday that the club will partner with two USL PRO teams for the 2014 season, adding a one-year agreement with OKC Energy FC to join Orlando City SC as an official USL PRO affiliate of Sporting KC. A minimum of two Sporting Kansas City players will be loaned to each USL PRO team throughout the season as part of the agreements.
Additionally, former Sporting Kansas City captain Jimmy Nielsen will serve as the head coach of OKC Energy FC in their expansion season in 2014. Nielsen retired last week after a 19-year playing career that culminated with an MLS Cup championship at Sporting Park.
"My family and I are excited to take on this new challenge and I look forward to the start of my coaching career in Oklahoma City," Nielsen said. "To remain a part of the Sporting Kansas City family and to take some of what I have learned from all of my coaches over the years, including Peter Vermes and staff, is an opportunity I embrace."
"OKC Energy FC provides us with a great, regional partner and having Jimmy Nielsen as the head coach will give us strong insight into player development," Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes said. "We will continue to have our wonderful relationship with Orlando City SC and adding OKC Energy FC to next year's plan perfectly aligns us with our goal of keeping players active and ready to integrate back with our first team to contribute in all of the competitions we will play in 2014."
OKC Energy FC is owned by Prodigal LLC, led by CEO Bob Funk, Jr., and was announced as a USL PRO expansion team in July. Sporting Kansas City has played several exhibition matches in the Oklahoma City area in the team's 18-year history, including the first MLS match in the city in 2003.
"We are pleased to affiliate with Sporting KC during our first season of play," said Prodigal CEO Bob Funk Jr. "Our partnership with them in this endeavor is groundbreaking. This relationship starts with Jimmy Nielsen as our head coach and a number of quality players that Sporting KC will provide, but also extends beyond the field of play and into all of our soccer business interests for the long term."
USL PRO will feature 14 teams for the 2014 season with the addition of OKC Energy FC and Sacramento. In 2013, USL PRO and Major League Soccer began a partnership toenhance the development of professional players in North America, strengthen the competition in both leagues and establish a solid foundation for futurecollaboration.
Sporting Kansas City and Orlando City SC became affiliates in January and both clubs were crowned champions of their respective leagues in the first of a two-year partnership. Sporting Kansas City loaned six players to the Lions throughout the 2013 season, including forward Dom Dwyer who set the league's scoring record with 15 goals in 13 games and was named the USL PRO championship MVP with four goals in the final.
"As we head into our final USL PRO season in 2014, Orlando City is pleased to continue our affiliation with Sporting KC," Orlando City President Phil Rawlins said. "I firmly believe this partnership was an important part of both clubs' on-field success in winning its respective league championships last season. Orlando City is proud to be part of this terrific player development initiative jointly established by Major League Soccer and USL PRO."
Orlando City SC was awarded an MLS expansion team last month and will join Major League Soccer as the 21st club for the 2015 season.