MLS Plans to Launch New Development League in 2022

George Bello (left) and Jefferson Savarino
George Bello (left) and Jefferson Savarino. Photo by Perry McIntyre/ISI/REX/Shutterstock (9891052n)

Major League Soccer recently unveiled plans to launch a new league that will be focused on player development. The league, which was “designed to complete the player pathway”, will start in 2022.

According to the official announcement, the yet-untitled league will have 20 MLS-linked teams with potential “for independently owned teams for the inaugural season.” It is expected that each MLS club will have its own developmental team in the league by 2023.

The league will kick off its season in March, with playoff matches set for fall and championship matches for early December. Further details are expected to be revealed by the end of 2021.

The main goal for the MLS with this new league is to provide young players a clearer path to the MLS roster and expand the reach of sport into markets that currently don’t have soccer teams.

The new development league should take on the role that was previously handled by the USL Championship.

So far, MLS teams have relied on USL-affiliated teams to get their reserve players some competitive experience. But as the USL Championship started growing as a league, the teams began to focus on results rather than developing young players.

“One of the really key components of [the pro pathway] is to have a lower-division opportunity for players that have come up through the development system, but aren’t yet ready to play for their first team,” explained MLS president Mark Abbott. “We need to find a place for them to have meaningful competition and meaningful minutes, and having a vibrant, lower division league is a way to do that.”