Sporting Kansas City

Rise of MLS-affiliated 'lower league' is a win-win for players, teams

Rise of MLS-affiliated 'lower league' is a win-win for players, teams

Dom Dwyer is a 26-year-old forward with national team aspirations and a Western Conference-best 50 goals over the last three MLS seasons. Yet he says his career in the U.S. may have ended after a brief four-minute appearance if not for a league many casual soccer fans know little about.

“I might not have gotten a chance in the MLS. And that’s really what it’s about,” said Dwyer, who grudgingly accepted a demotion to the Orlando City of the third-tier United Soccer League after playing just one MLS game as a rookie for Sporting Kansas City.

Richie Marquez tells a similar story. A four-year starter at the tiny University of Redlands, Marquez struggled with the huge step...