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MLS to launch new lower-division league in 2022

MLS has announced the creation of a new lower division professional league that will launch in 2022.

The league itself, which has yet to be given a name, is aimed to bridge the gap between youth academies and first-team rosters, the league announced on Monday. It is expected to include roughly 20 teams in its first year, including several MLS-operated teams currently playing in the USL Championship and USL League One.

“We are excited to launch a new league to complete the professional pathway between our academies and the MLS first teams,” said MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott in a league release. “In addition to providing more opportunities for MLS-caliber players, the new league will develop a diverse talent pool of coaches, referees and front office executives while also attracting fans who previously were unable to support a local club in their hometown.”

The structure and calendar will closely resemble that of MLS, including the use of several conferences. A 20-26 match schedule will begin in late March leading into the playoffs and a championship game slated for early December. Independent teams will also be eligible to participate in the U.S. Open Cup and as the league grows, MLS plans to explore options to allow teams in the league to play lower-division teams from other countries.

By the 2023 season, every MLS team with a lower-division team will play in the league, which will also include an uncapped number of independent teams outside of the league’s current ownership structure. The new league should help player development overall, as MLS has continued to see young players blossom with early playing time.

MLS-operated teams in the new league are expected to play either at the MLS stadium or at a smaller venue in relatively close proximity, as is the case now with the teams playing in USL. Independent teams will be required to pay an undisclosed expansion fee to take part in the league.

MLS has continued to grow as a league, which has seen the number of clubs expand to 27 with several expansion clubs coming into play starting in 2022.


  1. This is a way to keep as many players as possible under MLS contract and damage USL. If it is about development, how do they pay these MLS caliber players if this league does not not try to make money?
    Power play by MLS and I don’t think it will work out.

  2. it will depend what the roster rules and age limits are in terms of whether this helps development. i think what would help domestic players out more would be carving international slots back down to 5. i don’t think internationals 6-8 impact the game much or sell tickets (which i think is really the first 3 international players who often occupy most or all DP slots) but they definitely squeeze younger players towards the bench or the reserve teams. you could increase MLS reserve team counts and make a pure developmental league and the issue would then become the bottleneck trying to find your MLS spot. if you dropped to 5 international slots then that’s like 81 more domestic players who can start and perhaps end up useful to the NT. and i believe in throughput. the more players we develop the odds go up someone is special.

    • I don’t really think so. I think it will hurt some but there are so many communities that don’t have the populations and resources to have an MLS team that still need a place to play. MLS doesn’t want absorb the Louisvilles, Tampas, or Indys that want to win not develop young players that’s why they are pulling their reserve teams from the USL.

      • “which will also include an uncapped number of independent teams outside of the league’s current ownership structure……”

      • in terms of whether it’s a developmental league or a trojan horse watch what roster or age rules get put in. if you start letting in independent teams with more of a traditional, “veteran players, play to win now, focus on selling tickets” mentality like USL what you really changed is who owns the league in which MLS reserve teams play. because despite moaning about USL being a true competition you will start re-creating it yourself beyond the reserve sides. if you put in roster rules or age limits then you become more of a true development league but perhaps less attractive to non MLS. that being said, a team that wants expansion might try our minor league instead of USL for the same reason lobbyists were staying at a certain DC hotel during a certain presidential tenure…..but that would not reflect a pure developmental approach.

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