Major League Soccer announced the official slate of 21 teams to compete in the league’s inaugural 2022 season. Nashville SC won’t compete in the first season, but will enter a team in 2023.
The league, announced by MLS in June, will give players from MLS NEXT clubs opportunities to develop, as well as allowing clubs to give competitive minutes to players in their first teams. From the full release:
NEW YORK (Monday, Dec. 6, 2021) – Today, MLS NEXT Pro announced the 21 clubs that will compete in the new professional league’s inaugural 2022 season. Adidas will serve as MLS NEXT Pro’s first corporate sponsor.
Established in June by Major League Soccer, the new professional league will complete an integrated player pathway from MLS NEXT through to MLS first teams. The new league will offer young players and experienced professionals the opportunity to develop and showcase their talents while competing for an MLS NEXT Pro championship.
MLS NEXT Pro will debut in 2022, a FIFA World Cup year, and just four years prior to the 2026 FIFA World Cup hosted by the United States, Canada, and Mexico. MLS NEXT Pro will bring professional soccer closer to fans and supporters, while providing more opportunities for players, coaches, referees, and sports business professionals throughout North America.
Cities across North America will experience the excitement and passion of professional soccer through the inclusion of both independent teams and MLS-affiliated teams. The 21 clubs competing in MLS NEXT Pro’s inaugural season include 20 teams affiliated with MLS clubs and one independent club, Rochester NY FC.
As a founding partner of MLS NEXT Pro, adidas will continue to expand upon its deep relationship with MLS and MLS NEXT. The partnership affirms adidas’ commitment to the growth and advancement of the sport of soccer in local communities throughout the United States, Canada and globally.
In addition to Rochester NY FC, the following MLS clubs will compete in MLS NEXT Pro’s 2022 season:
– Kansas City
– New England
– Salt Lake
– San Jose
– St. Louis
Eight additional MLS-affiliated teams will join MLS NEXT Pro in 2023, including: Atlanta United, Austin FC, Charlotte FC, D.C. United, LA Galaxy, LAFC, Nashville SC, and New York Red Bulls. In addition to Rochester NY FC, MLS NEXT Pro will introduce additional independent clubs to the league in 2023 and beyond.
MLS NEXT Pro will kick off its inaugural season in March, just one month after Major League Soccer action starts, and see its season culminate in postseason action in September. The full 2022 match schedule and competition details will be announced at a later date.
It’s an interesting decision for Nashville to delay their entrance into the league for a season. However, given that their youth academy is in its infancy and they don’t have a USL Championship affiliate, having depth to field a competitive squad at the MLS NEXT Pro level may be a concern.
It’s unfortunate for players like Handwalla Bwana, Dylan Nealis and Rodrigo Piñeiro, who saw little action for Nashville in 2021 but sorely need minutes to continue their development. Until Nashville fields a team in 2023, expect to see more loan moves for players on the fringes of the first team.