D.C. United confirmed today that it will have an affiliate club in MLS Next Pro, Major League Soccer’s new professional league that will debut in 2022. However, United — like several other MLS organizations — will not field their affiliate in the new league, which will fit into the American men’s soccer pyramid at the third-tier level, until 2023.
United has had Loudoun United functioning as their professional satellite club in the USL Championship for three years now. While the release announcing the news did not specify whether United would be moving Loudoun over to MLS Next Pro or founding a new, third club, all available evidence points to porting the existing side over to a new league rather than having various teams in MLS, the USL Championship, MLS Next Pro, and the USL-W League.
MLS Next Pro will begin play with 21 teams, all but one of which are affiliated with existing MLS clubs (or, in the case of St. Louis City SC, expansion sides that will come online next season). The one independent club joining the league is Rochester NY FC, the club formerly known as the Rochester Rhinos that is now partially owned by Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy. MLS’s press release notes that they plan on adding more independent clubs to the league starting in 2023. The league will run on a schedule beginning in March and ending in September.
The stated concept for starting a new league rather than continuing to partner with the USL (where MLS had satellite clubs in both the Championship and League One, as well as less formal links in League Two) is to “complete an integrated player pathway from MLS Next through to MLS first teams.” MLS Next is the league’s youth academy system that was introduced in 2020 with the aim of replacing U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy set-up.
In today’s announcement, MLS also noted that league sponsor Adidas will also function in that role for MLS Next Pro. Charles Altcheck, who was formerly the league’s Senior Vice President of League Growth and Operations, has been named President of the new league, while former New York Red Bulls sporting director and Toronto FC general manager Ali Curtis is its Senior Vice President of Competition and Operations.
MLS Next Pro will consist of teams separated into Eastern and Western conferences, with a schedule planning for “up to” 24 games before an eight-team playoff stage. The conferences for 2022 sort out as follows:
Eastern: Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus, Miami, New England, New York City, Orlando, Philadelphia, Rochester, Toronto
Western: Colorado, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Minnesota, Portland, Salt Lake, San Jose, Seattle, St. Louis, Vancouver
United is one of a group of eight MLS sides whose affiliate will join the league in 2023. Atlanta United, Austin FC, Charlotte FC, the LA Galaxy, LAFC, Nashville SC, and the New York Red Bulls are in the same boat.