By Jonathan Lipman
Major League Soccer announced last week that they will be launching a new league in 2022. The league is the final step to completing the player pathway from the MLS NEXT youth development program to professional soccer. The league will also tap into markets around North America that previously have not been home to a professional soccer team.
MLS has worked hard in recent years to grow the game and the league's popularity amongst youth players in the United States and around North America. The MLS NEXT youth platform has been greatly successful in capturing the attention of elite youth soccer players and generating excitement around the MLS. This new league will provide the perfect segway from the NEXT programs to elite level soccer by showcasing the best young talent in the game through competition with established pro players.
The teams for the new development league have not been announced yet. However, multiple MLS franchises including the Portland Timbers, who notoriously have a strong fanbase, have already said they will field a lower level team for the new league. It is also suspected that many independently run teams outside of MLS ownership will join the league. The league is reported to have around 20 teams for its first season and will expand before the 2023 season.
The development of this new league allows the sport of soccer to expand into new markets and build fanbases from the ground up. Potential new landing spots for teams include St. Louis, Milwaukee, Charlotte and Detroit. These cities do not currently have professional soccer teams and are generally popular markets for sports franchises.
These new franchises also generate more job opportunities for soccer executives and aspiring sports professionals. This will assist the movement created by the MLS to grow the game in North America and integrate more diversity into soccer leadership and employment.
The schedule will align similarly to that of the MLS and will begin in late March. The season will conclude with playoffs and a championship contest in early December. The teams will belong to either the Eastern or Western Conference and will compete in 20-25 games throughout the season. As the league grows, MLS hopes to generate competition against lower-league teams from other countries.
The MLS has yet to name the new league and they look to determine leadership positions soon out of their New York City headquarters.