Three MLS-owned teams in USL Soccer–Philadelphia Union II, Portland Timbers 2 and Orlando City B–have withdrawn from USL Championship and League One to play in a new MLS U-23 league come 2022.
Portland Timbers 2 will forgo the upcoming 2021 USL Championship campaign in anticipation of 2022. T2 will go on hiatus for one season while the Timbers work on a new MLS U-23 league geared toward the post-formation period (players 18-23 years old) as part of the professional player pathway.
“The Timbers have had a longstanding and productive relationship with USL, one that provided us the platform to enter MLS, and for that we are extremely appreciative,” said Gavin Wilkinson, Timbers general manager and president of soccer. “With the inability to share players between T2 and the first team due to COVID this season we have been unable to use this platform for player development as we would have hoped and we don’t expect that to change in 2021. We are working closely with MLS to complete the pro player pathway for the post-formation period in 2022 and are excited to disclose more details at the appropriate time.”
The minor-league-baseball Hillsboro Hops will continue running the business operations for T2 in 2022 after the club returns from hiatus. The Timbers will continue to own T2 and manage soccer operations for the club, with matches being played at Hillsboro Stadium.
Similarly, Philadelphia Union II announced it was leaving USL Championship and is working in partnership with MLS a competition platform for the transitional phase between academy and first team.
Orlando City announced the withdrawal of Orlando City B from USL League One play, but did not announce plans for 2021 and beyond.
These certainly are not the only MLS-owned entries in USL Championship or USL League One (Fort Lauderdale CF, New England Revolution II and Toronto FC II remain in League One, and seven MLS-owned teams remain in USL Championship). We certainly may see other MLS teams defect; USL’s Tacoma Defiance will participate in USL Championship in 2021, but Seattle Sounders General Manager and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey says the team may be looking at a new MLS U-23 league in the future.