MLS Next Pro: New Division III league to launch in 2022 with 21 teams

MLS Next Pro, the new MLS league at the Division III pro level, will launch in 2022 with 21 teams:

Colorado (Rapids 2)
Columbus (Columbus Crew 2)
**Dallas (North Texas SC)
Houston (Houston Dynamo 2)
*Kansas City (Sporting KC II)
**Miami (Fort Lauderdale CF) 
Minnesota (MNUFC2)
**New England (New England Revolution II)
Philadelphia (Philadelphia Union 2)
Rochester NY FC
*Salt Lake (Real Monarchs)
San Jose   
*Seattle (Tacoma Defiance)
St. Louis   
**Toronto (Toronto FC II)
*Played in 2021 USL Championship. *Played in 2021 USL League One.

The 21 teams include 19 teams affiliated with MLS teams, a team entered by 2023 MLS expansion team St. Louis City SC and the league's first independent team, Rochester NY FC (the former Rhinos co-owned by England international Jamie Vardy and David and Wendy Dworkin, who owned the Rhinos when they most recently played in the USL).

Eight other MLS clubs will field MLS Next Pro teams in 2023 -- Atlanta United, Austin FC, Charlotte FC, D.C. United, LA Galaxy, LAFC, Nashville SC and New York Red Bulls -- leaving CF Montreal as the only MLS club that has not yet committed to the league. Atlanta United, D.C. United, LA Galaxy and New York Red Bulls will again field teams in the USL Championship in 2022.

Leadership. Charles Altchek, MLS's senior vice president of league growth and operations at Major League Soccer, will be the MLS Next Pro president. Altchek, who formerly worked in MLS commissioner Don Garber's office, has been leading the MLS Next Pro project.

Ali Curtis returns to MLS to served as MLS Next Pro's senior vice president of competition and operations. He most recently served as Toronto FC's general manager.

Evolution. The priority for MLS second teams has changed through the years.

MLS operated a reserve league as recently as 2014 -- and it was just that, a league providing opportunities for reserves needing playing time or starters coming back from injuries.

The first MLS-operated club to play in USL Pro was LA Galaxy II in 2014. By 2020, 14 MLS clubs operated teams in the USL Championship or USL League One. These teams included reserves needing playing time, young players signed to their first pro contracts and other players seeking to advance their pro careers.

The 2016 New York Red Bulls included a pair of future national team players: 17-year-old Tyler Adams (signed to a USL pro contract) and Aaron Long (playing with his fifth USL team).

Teams were allowed to play academy players with amateur status, and they started to be fast-tracked into second teams, where they played bigger roles.

The success the Philadelphia Union has had with developing Homegrown players began when they started to stock Bethlehem Steel with teenagers such as Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson, both now members of the U.S. national team.

14 comments about "MLS Next Pro: New Division III league to launch in 2022 with 21 teams".
  1. Bob Ashpole, December 7, 2021 at 7:25 a.m.

    To me this seems like an unproductive sideways step. It looks like this is simply MLS starting yet another league to compete with existing leagues. At the development stage, we should be looking for consolidation into regional groups to reduce the amount of time and expense lost to travel. Not trying to once more duplicate the first division scope with development teams.

    Is the mission to grow organizations or to develop players? If the mission is to make money off pay to play soccer, then expanding into more markets is a good business strategy. But it hurts player development.

  2. Bob Ashpole replied, December 7, 2021 at 7:38 a.m.

    On further reflection, I wonder if the purpose of the sideways step is to force large numbers of parents to sign professional contracts for their children in order to play? Much more information is needed to tell. 

  3. Michael Sullivan replied, December 8, 2021 at 11:57 a.m.

    I agree with you Bob. MLS should be working with the existing leagues to better improve the overall soccer landscape on our continent rather than compete with them and perhaps harm what's built just for a buck and control.

    (On a lighter note....I love your last name, as a comic it made my day! Keep it light and smile!)

  4. frank schoon, December 7, 2021 at 10:25 a.m.

    More divisions????...How 'bout improving the quality of the game first....Increasing Quantity doesn't mean Improving QUALITY....

  5. Thomas Connors replied, December 7, 2021 at 4:09 p.m.

    Totally agree!!

  6. Wallace Wade, December 7, 2021 at 12:52 p.m.

    The Federation does nothing. I've never seen any organization that is so derelict to its aim. Let's just keep adding more and more leagues. Idiocracy 

  7. Anthony Bates, December 7, 2021 at 1:08 p.m.

    It's a place to put academy grads who need seasoning, all the while MLS retains their

  8. Paul Kropp, December 7, 2021 at 1:50 p.m.

    Could the editors fix the asterisks please? The club list has teams tagged * and ** but the key at the end has two entries both for * only. Please fix so folks can know the impact on USL.

  9. Steve Walicki, December 7, 2021 at 5:22 p.m.

    This just further separates USL from MLS -I don't get it. We should be trying to integrate/unify professional soccer leagues in the US, not further confusing the issue. Make no mistake about it, this is all about the money. Always has been, always will be. Player development is a bonus. 

  10. John DiFiore, December 7, 2021 at 8:23 p.m.

    To me, this seems to make USL Championship a more competetive league!  Weeding out the affiliates, less developmental games in markets that don't have an MLS franchise. This might make the Open Cup more fun now.  Let MLS Next compete with League One. My guess is that after a couple years, MLS Next will apply for 2nd division status, competing then with USL Championship. 

  11. Guy Walling, December 8, 2021 at 6:27 p.m.

    MLS just wants to control and exploit...plain and simple. If they consume and control all the youth then it's slim pickings for the other leagues. They are promising a pathway, but giving nothing in return. It's a viscous circle and unfortunately I'm not seeing much of a return for these kids. 

  12. humble 1, December 8, 2021 at 7:24 p.m.

    Looks like * is USL Championship and ** is USL League 1.

    If they invest in the players and the league MLS Next Pro is all is good.   Certainly at this moment the MLS itself is not a platform to develop academy talent beyond the youth phase.  This is clear with Portland going to the final starting 10 foreign player and NYCFC 8 MLS, this is a trend that that is strengthening, not weakening.  With the new trend being younger players coming from abroad.  Again, look at Portland, they have the ex-US vet model, and NYCFC, they have the new ex-US youth model. So MLS pretty much shut out their own academy future stars, and they were all playing in USL Academy at Championship or USL1, essentially supporting their competition.

    This now stops, mostly.  It kinda seems like more of a 'we're taking our ball and leaving shot at the USL' than a well thought out strategic movement.  Payback for the Jonathan Gomez move from FC Dallas lost to Louisville City in the USL Championship?  Add to this the fact that MLS cannot lay claim to have developed Pulisic, the top American player today, and you kind of see what they are trying to wrestle to the ground.  Good luck!

    As certain posters above correctly point out the usual model for nations to ID talent is a simple league structure to enable pyramid building, so you can see the cream rise to the top.  You cannot build a pyramid if there are silos.  When you have competing leagues you do not get the best v the best at each level.  It is not surprising however that USSF does nothing as their tendency is to support soccer as a business not soccer as a sport.  Cheers!

    Add up the value of players that slipped through MLS fingers.  Will be surprising.   

  13. Bob Ashpole replied, December 8, 2021 at 10:20 p.m.

    humble, that was an excellent post. A clear, concise summary of the problem with US soccer. Thank you.

  14. Kent James, December 9, 2021 at 1:01 a.m.

    I don't know, I don't think this is a crazy idea (depending on how it's done).  I have season tickets to the Pgh Riverhounds (USL), and we always play some of the MLS feeder teams.  But they seem like a different animal; they exist to feed the MLS teams, so any good players will be snatched up. They have a lot of very young players.  Their goal is to develop players, not win games.  Regular USL fans like their teams to win games, more than develop players. So for me, while it may not make sense for the fans of the MLS feeder teams (who goes to the feeder team games instead of the 1st team games? Why watch the back-ups when you can watch the starters?), it makes sense from a development standpoint (unless I'm misunderstanding how it works).  

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