New Year, New League
MLS NEXT Pro: Connecting The Pathways
On December 6, 2021, MLS stepped up its idea of player development with the full announcement of its new league, MLS NEXT Pro. This league was created to serve as a pathway between the MLS NEXT league for academies and MLS. The US Soccer Federation has sanctioned MLSNP as a Division 3 league, which forms this as a professional level of the American soccer leagues. This level of sanction is the same as USL League One and NISA Pro.
With a tagline of “committed to driving a New Era of North American soccer”, MLS is looking to harness the potential from academies to bring forward a stronger first division league in the future. More and more information keeps coming out about the roster rules; it is becoming clear they’re trying to build an attractive brand to keep players focused on truly growing into a Division 1 contract.
Teams Look Forward To A Great Inaugural Season
RNYFC Will Join MLS Second Teams
In the first season of MLS NEXT Pro, the given was that all MLS teams were pulling their second teams to join together. The next addition was a surprise, as the newly re-invented Rochester New York FC team joined the new league. As it currently stands, these are the teams within MLSNP:
|Western Conference||Eastern Conference|
|Portland||New York City|
And to look forward to the future, the league will be adding eight more second teams from MLS. Those locations are Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, D.C., Los Angeles, LAFC, Nashville, and Red Bull New York.
What Will The Full Season and Playoffs Look Like?
The inaugural season plan is each team plays up to 24 league games. This particular setup gives way to possibly having at least three repeat matchups for each club. The schedule is undecided, but it will end up in an eight-team playoff. As a league split into conferences, I would assume the top four in the East and the West face off in quarterfinals (Conference semi-final), leading to a conference final. Then, the winners will battle for the MLS NEXT Pro League Cup.
For further game experience and ticket revenue, the league has stated that there will be international opportunities. Also, the teams will feature in other cups and tournaments. The league looks to get meaningful playing time for players at a professional Division III standard, investing in the future.
Roster Size, Cap And Internationals?
Roster Size And Requirements
MLS NEXT Pro just announced the guidelines of how to build the rosters for the 2022 season. As it stands, the roster cap is at 35 total players. The first 24 spots are kept for professional players. Those players can come through the club at any age. One single hindrance of the players signed to these spots, only seven International spots. Internationals cannot acquire permanent residence in the country, whether by U.S. citizenship, green card, or granted asylum in the U.S.
The roster sets aside 11 spots kept for amateur players who came up through the various avenues of youth soccer for their club. This process allows the academies and youth programs to give their attendees a pathway to professional. They identified that fielding an entire “academy” 11 isn’t worthwhile. They set aside a rule to only allow five Amateur contracted players on the field at a time. The final guidelines for these “Amateur” players are as follows:
- Under 21 Years Old Before The Beginning Of The Season
- Not Competed In College Or University Programs
- Never Considered Professional By NCAA or FIFA Standards
- Currently Plays Or Has Played For An Affiliated Club or Academy
No Ceiling To MLS NEXT Pro? Wait, What?
The players signed to the new MLS NEXT Pro have no maximum or minimum salary. This is huge for the recruitment aspect of the league. It allows each team to be as forward-thinking as they want to be. If a team invests eight to nine figures into their second team, they can produce a team with money that attracts players from European and South American academies. This means that the clubs can compete for players within the league, as extravagantly as possible. It’s important to note that there is no cap on the minimum end. The lack thereof allows for the “amateur” contracts to exist.
The other important contract guideline is that each team signs directly with the team. Therefore, if a player gets traded to another squad, they must be offered a new contract. This process allows the players to get a pay increase as they are traded from team to team. Also, any trades within the league will involve actual cash, instead of the MLS assets (GAM, TAM).
MLS NEXT Pro Vs MLS: The Similarities
One of the important similarities between the leagues is the consistency with the International spots. Once again, allowing each team to do what they want with their roster, as International spots are tradeable within the league. Also, MLS NEXT Pro keeps to a similar injury reserve rule, allowing a team to set a player off as “Injured Reserve” for 5 games
Revs Academy –> Revolution II –> New England Revolution
The Revolution just began their second team in 2020. So, for this team and it’s academy structure, this is a huge impact to their recruitment and development. The front office just recently replaced their Director of Youth Development for the Revolution Academy. All of that combined with this new improved league will give the Revolution many bonuses.
Pertaining to roster size and the amateur roster spots, the team can create a revolving door of up to 11 players from any Academy age in those spots. It upgrades on the amount they’ve had in USL League One at any given time. Alongside those 11, they can get 24 other players of varying skills and ages to keep a good mixture of experience and youth. The final part that makes those spots so appealing is that there is no minimum or maximum salary. Coercing a young star to come to MLS NEXT Pro will be simpler than the USL League One roster confusion. This also allows teams to have a clear vision of how a player can become a homegrown player for the first team. There will be a bigger competition to make the gameday roster which helps the squad by creating healthy competition.
The NEGATIVE IMPACT
A major minus comes from this league putting the college guidelines on the Amateur spots. Any of the Revolution Academy players who have already headed into to college during their time in the academy will not qualify for those 11 spots. Instead, if they want to head to a professional contract, they need to use up one of the 24 spots now.
MLS Next Pro Signings
While I started to write this piece, New England announced the beginning of the roster build for Revolution II’s MLS NEXT Pro season. They signed three newcomers from South America. Specifically, Brazil was the site of all the signings. Jose Ítalo, Marcos Dias and Ryan Lima were all signed to Revolution II contracts. Jose comes from Flamengo’s U20 program. Marcos comes from the Vasco Da Gama U20 program. Ryan comes from the Botafogo U20 program. Lima follows in the footsteps of Michel and Maciel that also arrived from Botafogo. As well, they signed a fourth player who had previously signed for Revs II in 2020, Michael DeShields.
They also announced the final cuts that were made to last years USL League One contracts. The team currently stands at 14 total players after all cuts were made, including the new signings. Esmir Bajraktarevic, Pierre Cayet, Michel Costa da Silva, Hikaru Fujiwara, Yannik Oettl, Sean O’Hearn, Connor Presley, Marzuq Puckerin, Colby Quiñones, and Meny Silva are the other ten players. The core of the players that were brought back performed well last season.