MLS

MLS Next Pro Off and Rolling

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Major League Soccer was almost universally on hiatus during the last weekend in March due to the final FIFA international window before the draw for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Even still, soccer fans in North America still got a full smorgasbord of The Beautiful Game from the MLS world.

Enter MLS Next Pro

Aside from the three MLS contests in a light Matchday Five of the 2022 MLS season, MLS embarked on a new developmental venture, MLS Next Pro. Matchday One of this new league began on Friday night with the inaugural match between St. Louis City 2 (also known as City 2), and independent side Rochester New York FC (formerly known as Rochester Rhinos).

City 2 won the match on its home grounds, 2-0, in a contest streamed live on the MLS Next Pro Website, just as all other matches during the freshman season of MLS Next Pro will be.

MLS Next Pro Serves as MLS’ Next Attempt At Developmental League

MLS Next Pro is the second effort by Major League Soccer to house a developmental league, eight years after the demise of its first attempt.

In 2005, the parent league’s 10th anniversary season, MLS launched the MLS Reserve League, with each then-active MLS team outfitting a reserve squad for the first four seasons of its life. The league went dormant between 2009 and 2010, and speculation at the time indicated that the dormancy was owed to the then-current United States economic recession.

After two years away, the MLS Reserve League returned in 2011, this time with the reserve squads staging two games a season against USL Pro teams. This move eventually resulted in crossover matches between teams from both leagues in the 2013 season after the schedules for the leagues were consolidated.

Finally, the MLS Reserve League was disestablished after 2014, and no further attempt was made at a developmental league by MLS, until 2022.

What Is MLS Next Pro?

MLS Next Pro is the newest soccer league in the world, only nine months old as of March of this year.

As a Division III league on the US Soccer Pyramid, much like USL League One, MLS Next Pro will begin its life in the 2022 season as a 21-team league. All but one of these clubs are owned by the parent league as reserve squads of their MLS counterparts.

MLS Next Pro will stage a 24-round regular season from the weekend of March 25 until the weekend of September 18, ending with MLS Next Pro Decision Day on September 18.

After, an eight-team postseason will be contested with the top four finishers from the Eastern and Western Conferences, wrapping up with the MLS Next Pro Final.

Dates and times for playoff matches will be revealed later this year.

The following are MLS Next Pro teams and their parent clubs (where applicable), broken down by conference and division.

MLS Next Pro Eastern Conference

Northeast Division

Central Division

MLS Next Pro Western Conference

Frontier Division

Pacific Division

Every other MLS team will field a team in MLS Next Pro by the start of the league’s sophomore season in 2023, with half of those teams currently in the USL Championship and the rest of those teams playing their first competitive match next season.

Draws? Not In MLS Next Pro!

Unlike its parent league and virtually every other soccer league in the world, every single match in MLS Next Pro will have a winner.

Repeating: Every single match in MLS Next Pro will have a winner. If the game goes the full 90 minutes, plus stoppage time, and finishes level, it will go immediately to penalty kicks, as was the case in the parent league at its inception.

However, unlike the original MLS penalty kick shootout, MLS Next Pro’s penalty shootouts are to be conducted from the penalty box.

Mission Statement of MLS Next Pro Clear

With the new endeavor set to launch, MLS Next Pro wasted little time in defining its mission statement.

According to the official Website:

“The path is clearer than ever and aligned with the world’s game where players ascend from youth academy to professional teams before breaking onto the global stage.”

In establishing MLS Next Pro, Major League Soccer has made it clear as a bell that it wishes to keep as many of its homegrown talents with their home teams for as long as possible.

It’s like in MMA where you could see a talented, up-and-coming prospect earn a shot at a championship belt in a promotion like the LFA or Cage Warriors, win the title in a most impressive fashion, and attract interest from the likes of the UFC, Bellator MMA, or the PFL,

From there, the touted prospect becomes a household name and wins a world championship.

The same applies in MLS Next Pro.

Case in point: A talented goalkeeper on Columbus Crew 2 may trade in his kit on the developmental squad and replace Eloy Room on the parent club’s roster.

Feilhaber Debuts As Manager in MLS Next Pro

A key storyline to watch, not just in the opening matchday of MLS Next Pro but all season long, is the one regarding a famous face as the man in charge at Sporting Kansas City II.

Longtime Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber will be just one of several head coaches who spent much of his playing career with the team, was hired as SKC II’s head coach back in January,

It’s his first coaching gig in professional soccer, a topic of discussion that came up during the March 22 episode of The Call-Up podcast.

How will Feilhaber do as a manager for the first time in the pro ranks?

Tune into MLS Next Pro all season long and find out.

Final Thoughts

MLS Next Pro is, much like any upstart league in American sports, heading into its freshman season looking to prove it has staying power.

The $1 million question is a simple one:

Can MLS Next Pro succeed where other upstart leagues, such as the original version of the XFL in 2001 and the AAF in 2019, failed?

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