In January when Major League Soccer and USL PRO announced a multi-year partnership, it was quickly embraced as a great way to foster not only relationships between clubs of the two American soccer leagues, but most importantly another venue to help in player development.
The press release cited the partnership would "enhance the development of players in North America, strengthen the competition in both leagues, and establish a solid foundation for future collaboration."
In just its first few months the Houston Dynamo are seeing this partnership blossom right in front of them. No the Dynamo were not one of the MLS clubs that quickly formed an affiliation with a USL PRO team, but the Dynamo did send out one of their promising young players on loan.
In a very short time during the 2012 season, Brian Ownby quickly became a topic of conversation among fans. He made his debut with the first team on June 10 against the Vancouver Whitecaps and played in a total of seven matches, notching two assists in 115 minutes.
Dynamo fans were impressed with his work ethic, mainly because he fit right in with his hustle and grit that was displayed in the short time on the field.
With Houston's midfield being their biggest weapon heading into the regular season, the Dynamo loaned Ownby to USL PRO club Richmond Kickers. It was a win on all three fronts as the Dynamo midfielder would be playing regular minutes (unlike on the first team), Richmond was getting a high quality player, and Ownby was returning to his youth club having come up in the Kickers Academy.
The Kicker's season is in full swing and to say Ownby has been a huge part of their success is an understatement. He's worked his way into the starting lineup and has been a key player for the Kickers the entire year. Currently Richmond is unbeaten in 21 straight games, and Ownby's game tying goal helped salvage that streak this past Sunday.
So far, Ownby has played in 15 matches and has notched five goals. He only trails former Dynamo Joseph Ngwenya (7) in goals scored for the Kickers. Additionally, he's added five assists on the season. Richmond has seven matches remaining in their 2013 regular season and currently are in second place in the USL PRO standings.
Not only has his success been evident for Richmond, Ownby continues to see playing time with the Dynamo Reserves this year as well. Ownby has appeared in all six of the Reserve matches, notching an additional three goals for Houston. The Dynamo Reserves (4-2-0) are currently in first place of the East Division.
In preseason, with the Dynamo core midfield group being set and depth not anticipated as an issue, Ownby's loan couldn't have come at more of a perfect time.
This 2012 Supplemental SuperDraft pick could turn out to be a perfect model for how MLS and USL PRO envisioned their partnership could impact player development.
With a year of additional experience and absolute success under his belt at Richmond and continued exposure in the MLS Reserve League, Ownby could be more than ready to challenge and push the Dynamo midfielders next season. With what we saw on the pitch in those seven matches in 2012 and what Dynamo fans are witnessing in a Kickers jersey, I'd suspect Ownby's name will start to come up more and more in the near future.