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.