Major League Soccer will launch MLS Next Pro in 2022 to help players develop and experience new formats, strategies, and approaches toward the game.

MLS Next Pro
The inaugural MLS Next Pro season will kick off in 2022. (Image: Twitter/mlsnextpro)

Twenty MLS clubs, through their second teams and one independent franchise, Rochester New York FC, will be part of MLS Next Pro’s inaugural season. Rochester New York FC is part-owned by Leicester City star Jamie Vardy, who bought a minority stake in the club back in June. The Dworkin family, who also part-own NBA’s Sacramento Kings, are the majority stakeholders at Rochester.

The 20 MLS clubs involved in the project will see their second teams subscribed to the new league. Eight additional MLS-affiliated teams will join in 2023.

“The whole idea around the new league is to test new ideas, to try new things and be really creative, both on and off the field,” said Charles Atlchek, who has become MLS Next Pro president.

Atlchek, who previously served as MLS’ senior vice president of league growth and operations, added “If there are things that we want to try, we’re going to use this new league as a way to test concepts. We want to push the game forward on and off the field.”

Part of the games in the MLS Next Pro will be played on MLS stadiums, with secondary venues also involved.

A new twist on an old concept

This isn’t the first time MLS is trying to create a developmental league. It’s happened twice before, first between 2005 and 2008, then again from 2011 to 2014. For the past six seasons, clubs have used their own USL affiliates or have started partnerships with independent clubs. A total of 14 MLS clubs operated their own USL affiliates in 2020.

MLS Next Pro members

The following clubs will field teams in the first season of MLS Next Pro:

  • Chicago Fire
  • Colorado Rapids
  • FC Cincinnati
  • FC Dallas
  • Houston Dynamo
  • Sporting Kansas City
  • Inter Miami
  • Minnesota United
  • New England Revolution
  • New York City FC
  • Orlando City
  • Philadelphia Union
  • Portland Timbers
  • Real Salt Lake
  • Rochester
  • San Jose Earthquakes
  • Seattle Sounders
  • St. Louis City
  • Toronto FC
  • Vancouver Whitecaps

Atlanta United, Charlotte FC, DC United, LA Galaxy, LAFC, Nashville SC, and New York Red Bulls are all scheduled to join Next Pro in 2023.

The 2022 season will start in March and will last for 25 weeks. There will be a playoff in September, with a Cup final similar to the one played in MLS to be contested by the two conference winners.

MLS Next Pro - inaugural season structure
The MLS Next Pro inaugural season structure. (Image: Twitter/mlsnextpro)