MLS Next Pro, the new Division III circuit launching in 2022, will feature 21 clubs in 2022 and adding at least eight teams in 2023, representing a serious realignment in professional soccer.
The existence of the new circuit is not a surprise–MLS officially unveiled it in June–but the size of the league is a little surprising. It’s a combination of new MLS-team-owned initiatives, shifts of existing MLS-owned teams in USL Championship and USL League One, and for now one independent team, a revival of the fondly remembered Rochester Rhinos.
The league alignment in 2022:
Eastern Conference: Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus, Miami, New England, New York City, Orlando, Philadelphia, Rochester, Toronto
Western Conference: Colorado, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Minnesota, Portland, Salt Lake, San Jose, Seattle, St. Louis, Vancouver
(Existing or former USL teams in bold.)
Eight additional MLS-affiliated teams will join MLS Next Pro in 2023, including: Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, D.C., LA, LAFC, Nashville and NY Red Bulls.
We’ll have a roundup of all 2022 teams in coming days.
The schedule will feature 24 league games per club, with eight teams making the playoffs, culminating in a cup final. Adidas will serve as MLS Next Pro’s first corporate sponsor.
Charles Altchek is MLS Next Pro President, and Ali Curtis will serve as Senior Vice President of Competition and Operations.
“Charles and Ali have the experience, enthusiasm and values to lead the growth and development of MLS NEXT Pro,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a press statement. “They will partner with MLS-affiliated and independent teams to bring professional soccer to more communities throughout North America.”
“MLS NEXT Pro completes Major League Soccer’s pro player pathway, connecting our youth academies through to our first teams,” said Altchek in a press statement. “As we continue to push the future of soccer forward in the United States and Canada, player development, community, innovation and diversity form the pillars of MLS NEXT Pro. The inaugural season in 2022 will be another historic moment for the sport.”
Graphic courtesy MLS.