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MLS unveils new development league

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The league will seek Division III status with the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Major League Soccer

Major League Soccer has unveiled a new professional league, set to begin play in 2022. The possibility of a new league was reported in October 2020, and again on the first of this month.

“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 goal behind the new league is to improve the pro pathway from the newly-created MLS Next academy program (which replaced the U.S. Soccer-run Development Academy). The new league is not geared to compete with United Soccer League’s Championship and League One divisions, but Abbott indicated to NBC Sports that the expectation is that the MLS 2 clubs that are currently in those leagues will eventually migrate. Every MLS team with a lower-division team will play in this new league by 2023.

“Our anticipation, is that the USL, who we have a great relationship with, will remain a very strong and vibrant league, and continue to do as much for player development as they have and continue to help grow the sport in this country,” Abbott said. “I think we’re going to see that league continue to thrive. But over time I would anticipate that most (MLS) clubs will all ultimately be in this league.”

The league will consist of 20 MLS clubs, although the door is open for independently-owned teams as well. The team has applied for Division III sanctioning from U.S. Soccer, which would put it at the same level as NISA and USL League One. Here’s how the pyramid stands now:

In a statement, the USL acknowledged the new league from MLS and the need for more youth development opportunities. “The more pathways there are for young players across the country, the better. We wish MLS success in their efforts and look forward to continuing our work together to grow the sport of soccer in the United States.”

There are 16 teams in MLS who currently have a USL reserve squad in one way or another. Seven own USL Championship teams (Atlanta United, D.C. United, LA Galaxy, the New York Red Bulls, Real Salt Lake, the Seattle Sounders, and Sporting Kansas City). Four own teams in USL League One (FC Dallas, Inter Miami CF, the New England Revolution, and Toronto FC). Similarly, five teams have an affiliate relationship with independent USL sides, four in the Championship (Colorado Rapids, Houston Dynamo, LAFC, and New York City FC), and one in League One (Chicago Fire).

What do you think of this new development in the U.S. Soccer club landscape? Hit the comments to discuss.