MLS launches another league 'to complete the professional pathway'

Major League Soccer started in 1996 with 10 teams. The English Premier League, then as now, comprised of 20 teams -- albeit in an area the size of Louisiana. In 2021, with 27 teams, MLS is the largest top-tier soccer league in the world. MLS's continued expansion seems logical compared to the USA's other major sports leagues.

Otherwise, pro soccer's growth in the USA can't possibly be logically compared to the historic structure of soccer abroad or traditional American sports. Only in the USA do universities play a role in prepping pro athletes. A pro soccer venture in the USA is part of an unfettered global free market incomparable to football, baseball or basketball. The only thing one could predict about how professional soccer would evolve in the USA was that it would be a hybrid.

Since its inception, MLS depended largely on platforms by other organizations for its youth and reserve teams. U.S. Soccer ran the Development Academy that MLS youth teams thrived in and the USL provided valuable competition for MLS reserve teams, and a way to commit young players to pro deals.

U.S. Soccer launched the DA in 2007, around the time that MLS mandated its teams commit to youth development programs. When U.S. Soccer ended the DA in April of 2020, MLS launched MLS Next, basically taking over the DA from U.S. Soccer. Especially because of the Covid interruptions, it's too early to judge MLS on this venture, but when it stepped in, the youth clubs that preferred a DA-like continuation were grateful.

On Monday, MLS confirmed another expansion:

Major League Soccer Launches New Professional League
New league to accelerate player development and bring professional soccer to new markets

“We are excited to launch a new league to complete the professional pathway between our academies and the MLS first teams,” said MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott. “In addition to providing more opportunities for MLS-caliber players, the new league will develop a diverse talent pool of coaches, referees and front office executives while also attracting fans who previously were unable to support a local club in their hometown."

The league will kickoff in late March of 2022 with 20 MLS clubs along "with the potential for independently owned teams for the inaugural season in 2022."

Among the MLS reserve or affiliate teams currently competing the in USL, the Tacoma Defiance, Sporting Kansas City II and Real Monarchs are joining for the inaugural season.

"During the coming months, a leader and new staff of league office employees will be hired to oversee the launch and ongoing management of the new league, which will have dedicated space in MLS’ New York City headquarters," MLS announced on Monday. "The new league will be supported by the infrastructure, experience, and resources of MLS. ... Further details, including the league’s name and logo, participating teams in the inaugural season, and application process for expansion clubs will be unveiled over the course of this year."

9 comments about "MLS launches another league 'to complete the professional pathway'".
  1. David Ruder, June 22, 2021 at 8:11 a.m.

    "Why" not support the existing lower-tier pro-leagues who have been keeping soccer alive since the early '70s. I think this is a punch in the gut to American Soccer by the deep-pocket crowd who have no real interest in Soccer except its commercial value and the prestige it gives them to be sports team owners. 

  2. Jack DiGiorgio replied, June 22, 2021 at 2:36 p.m.

    Excellent point. Fully agree with ...exept the MLS... greedy.

  3. Sharon Anderon, June 22, 2021 at 9:05 a.m.

    I agree with David. 

    Having been a player and fan since the 70's, this move feels like a direct blow to the USL. 

    what the heck is MLS thinking? This won't create a relegation/promotion situation (that fans have craved forever), but only drives a wedge into existing structures. I understand the MLS Next as a useful tool, but to cast aside USL? Geez. 

    this will be a talking point on a soccer podcast I help host. 

  4. Paul Cox replied, June 22, 2021 at 1:02 p.m.

    Independent USL clubs have been unhappy with the current setup for some time. The MLS teams that play in the Championship don't operate in a way that is designed to make money, or improve the league; they exist for the purpose of player development, so you wind up with what should legitimately be a team full of U23s playing against clubs that really want to be more of a legit second division.

  5. Wallace Wade, June 22, 2021 at 9:29 a.m.

    Yep. Don't actually implement any real developmental pyramid...just keep muddying the water with more "Leagues"! More fractured than it already is. Good plan 

  6. R2 Dad, June 22, 2021 at 10:11 a.m.

    Shouldn't USSF have a declaration on this, pro or con?

  7. Gordon Holt replied, June 22, 2021 at 7:16 p.m.


  8. Ben Myers, June 22, 2021 at 1:21 p.m.

    Moneyed interests continue to rule US soccer, much to the detriment of all, further fragmenting player development efforts.  The only way the USMNT and USWNT can continue to do well is to rely on players good enough to go play professionally in Europe.  MLS remains consistently mediocre in player development, hiring cheap Latin American players to carry the load, with too few Americans given the opportunity to excel. 

  9. Bob Ashpole, June 22, 2021 at 8:19 p.m.

    What I want to know is whether this is an actual league or just an extension of MLS? An actual league is not a club or a team, but rather an athletic competition.

    Something is strange about the proposal because the participants will be 20 MLS clubs plus maybe some "independently owned teams". Take away the "independently owned teams" and it sounds like a rebirth of the MLS Reserve league.

    My guess is that this is MLS's solution to the revenue lost when 18 year-olds without a professional contract sign with foreign clubs. This structure would allow MLS to sign underage domestic players to professional contracts with a view to increasing their revenue from international transfers. For that purpose, it doesn't matter whether MLS has 10 or 27 of its franchises participating since MLS holds all the player contracts.

    Bottom line, this is more about increasing MLS revenues than improving player development.  

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