Analysis

Follow-up on the new MLS player development league

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Union

Monday Major League Soccer announced a new player development league and said that 20 MLS teams would participate. They did not enumerate which.

Assuming the 11 clubs who have player development teams in the two USL lower division leagues and the additional three who did so in 2020 account for 14 of the 20, who are the other six? Of course if Toronto FC II is excluded by virus-related border crossing restrictions, the question becomes who are the other seven?

Aggregating club websites’ academy pages allow the following likelihoods chart. Clubs are listed in descending order of the likelihood that the heading is accurate. Pairings indicate similar likelihoods. Explanations follow .

Intentions are clear, but 2022 timing is not   Unknown, clues are sparse   Not in 2022
Houston Dynamo Colorado Rapids Nashville SC
Minnesota United Columbus Crew Austin FC
Charlotte FC
Vancouver Whitecaps San Jose Earthquakes FC Cincinnati
CF Montreal LA FC
Chicago Fire
NYC FC

 

Explanations

Not in 2022” is the group easiest to explain.

Nashville SC will not participate in the new player development league in 2022 because they are still building their new stadium, a significant drain on finances, and they have no actual teams in their academy. They are years away from needing a “steppingstone” from their academy to the first team.

Nor will Austin FC participate next year. Their academy is active and successful, but its oldest side is U15. They are moving forward to add next level teams as their groups age. They are fewer years away from needing a steppingstone than is Nashville, but they are still years away.

Charlotte FC, who will join play in MLS in 2022, are closer to needing a “steppingstone” than is Austin because their Academy has a U17 team this season. But their only other academy team is U14. 2022 is too early.

FC Cincinnati might conceivably join next year. They have a U19 team in their academy. But 2021 is the U19 side’s first season, and they just opened their new stadium. 2022 might be a bit fast, unless their philosophy – like the Union’s — is thoroughly committed to pitting youngsters against adults.

Next easiest to explain is the group titled “Intentions are clear, but 2022 timing is not.”

The Vancouver Whitecaps already list a 9-player U23 roster, commenting that the side is supplemented by Academy players and first-team reserves. But Canadian participation remains problematic because of required virus quarantines after crossing the international border. The Whitecaps first-team is currently based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

CF Montreal lists a U23 team but gives it no roster. A head coach was announced in late April. Montreal’s problems participating from Canada are the same as Vancouver’s and their first team is currently based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Houston Dynamo lists a U23 team as part of its academy but provides neither a roster nor any coaches. The club introduced a new owner this past Tuesday. How he will affect things is uncertain.

Minnesota United’s website says “[they will] be adding a U23 team that will also function as a reserve team, bridging the gap between youth and professional soccer.” It provides no indication when that team will come into existence. They closed their Academy last year. Their best prospect, Barjung Darboe, now plays for Philadelphia Union 2 as an academy amateur.

The toughest group to explain is the largest, “Unknown, clues are sparse.” All have functioning academies, and only San Jose’s  — like the Union’s –does not have a U19 side.

NYCFC player development has always marched successfully, but to the beat of a drummer different from the rest of the league (although they do participate in MLS Next). Chicago Fire’s has been similarly anomalous, although the recent ownership change is said to be changing that.

LAFC and San Jose field strong teams in MLS Next throughout its various levels, as do Colorado and Columbus.

Summary

If the Canadian border opens, Vancouver is the likeliest 2022 participant in the new MLS development league, while Nashville is the least. Right behind Nashville in improbability are Austin and Charlotte.

Minnesota and Montreal intend to join someday, but who’s to say it will be in 2022?

After those six, the other eight sides are much harder to judge.

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