Breaking News / MLS

MLS officially announces a new professional league for 2022

Photo Marjorie Elzey

Major League Soccer’s  frequently-rumored, long-expected new professional youth development league was officially announced Monday morning.

The announcement gives basic calendar parameters. The league will begin in late March of 2022. The regular season will end in the fall. There will be a postseason playoff with a championship match in early December. The calendar imitates that already known to the relevant TV network(s).

The announcement states that 20 MLS teams will participate in 2022 but does not identify them. It emphasizes the opportunity for independently owned clubs in cities without professional soccer to join. The indirect recruiting pitch suggests that the number of teams for next season may not yet be final.

But there are no further details, such as where the new league fits in U. S. Soccer’s pyramid. In the past such detail has determined where new leagues fit, since ownership’s financial strength and their stadium sizes have been prominent among the determinants. 

The financial requirements facing independent ownership are critical details to know. Independent youth clubs or amateur USL2 sides are not necessarily blessed with wealthy ownership. Finances might exclude otherwise appropriate candidates.

The rest of the news lies in what the announcement did NOT say.

  • It makes no direct comment on players’ ages, reinforcing earlier unofficial reports that individual clubs will have the flexibility to implement different developmental philosophies.
  • There is no mention of the number of games each side will play, a detail crucial to player development since development depends on large quantities of game minutes.
  • There is no mention pro or con of the potential efficiencies of geographic regionalization.
  • There is no overt mention of having applied to U. S. Soccer for certification.

For 2022 28 MLS teams are expected, 2021’s 27 plus Charlotte. Right now there are 11 wholly-owned MLS2 sides in the two professional USL leagues, and three more who left USL at the end of 2020. If those 14 are all part of the new 2022 league, six remain unidentified. Guessing them will take intricate puzzle-solving in the immediate future. There are 14 MLS pieces to that puzzle.

Earlier unofficial reports indicated that half the MLS teams would enter the league. If those reports were correct at that time, perhaps six more have joined in the interval. If recruiting continues, that would explain some of the absence of detailed definitive data.

7 Comments

  1. Chris Gibbons says:

    Kind of strange announcement. Are they attempting to subvert USL, but playing by MLS rules instead of USL’s? Are they building just a developmental league, or will be a real second division? Will they recruit USL/other lower division sides like Oakland or Madison? Will there be divisions? Conferences?

    • It’s the continuation of the stranglehold. They are playing the patient waiting game and slowly putting the squeeze on the neck of any non MLS soccer related entity. We can’t fool ourselves. These aren’t benevolent organizations. Just like the European teams they want more of the pie and more control over product development.

    • Union fan says:

      Yeah, this seemed like a really sloppily thrown together announcement. Reminds me of Inter Miami before they got started, when they would send out a press release to announce they would have a very exciting announcement in 2 months- no further details at this time. Maybe there was some unknown to us, behind the scenes reason they had to throw this out there immediately?

  2. Tim Jones says:

    All good questions that the announcement leaves unanswered.

  3. I read this as an acknowledgement that the current USL setup does not meet the needs of MLS in regards to development and conditioning of their players. This provides a better framework where the current USL is a second tier league and the MLS development at Tier III allows for competetive games but the MLS teams are not focusing on winning, but player development. To be honest I think that it strengthens the existing USL as a competitive league – but I think it will pressure that league to create relationships with MLS, being sandwiched by two MLS leagues.

    This structure to lead to promotion/relegation in time. In order for promotion/relegation to work you need competitive leagues which can support teams that drop down. This could create a structure where that can exist. With second teams for MLS that are only worried about rehabbing players and developing youth USL hasn’t been a full pro league in some ways.

    My gut says that the US formulas for promotion/relegation will probably be initially based on multiple seasons’ performance so that one building season doesn’t drop you out of the top league.

    • What incentive do MLS owners have to agree to PRO/REL? Top European teams just tried to break away to form a league in the form of MLS in order to insure a steady form of revenue. Why, given the proof provided by those Euro teams that they feel the MLS teams are in envious economic positions, why would MLS owners give that up voluntarily? Just so U.S. soccer organizations can do it like the rest of the world? C’mon, PRO/REL is even more of a pipe dream now. It makes zero sense for MLS owners to go for PRO/REL.

  4. It makes sense if you’re trying to grow the sport beyond the existing number of teams in the top league (or a reasonable number of teams for a single league). But it requires local coverage of lower leagues so that there’s a significant revenue stream at that level. I’m not saying that it’s likely to happen, just that they’re making decisions with an eye to it.

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