Apr 1, 2022 - Sports

MLS launches its version of the G League

St. Louis City II celebrates the win over Rochester City FC in the season-opener.

St. Louis City II celebrates the win over Rochester City FC in the season-opener. Courtesy: MLS Next Pro

MLS Next Pro, which launched last week, could forever change how elite soccer players are developed in the U.S.

Why it matters: The addition of MLS Next Pro — the equivalent to the NBA's G League — makes MLS the only major North American sports league with its own youth, lower division and top-flight pro leagues.

How it works: 21 teams, 20 of whom are affiliated with an MLS club, will play a 24-game regular season ahead of an eight-team playoff. All games will be streamed on MLSNextPro.com.

  • 14-year-old Maximo Carrizo, the youngest player in MLS history, is on NYCFC's Next Pro team (NYCFC II), and Romeo Beckham (David's son) is on Inter Miami II's roster.
  • Rochester New York FC, co-owned by England star Jamie Vardy, is the lone independent team. MLS is confident more independent groups will join as expansion teams in the future.

The intrigue: Innovation is a key pillar of the league. The first major experiment? No ties. If regulation ends in a draw, teams go directly to penalty kicks.

  • "It's exciting for the fans, and we want to try new things," league president Charles Altchek tells Axios, adding that it will give players reps in high-stress situations that can't be simulated in practice.
  • "In the last few years, about a quarter of MLS games ended in ties. It will be interesting to see whether the game changes as teams know they'll be going to a shootout."

The backdrop: MLS youth academies have become integral over the past decade, developing elite talent both for promotion to the first team (and USMNT team) and to sell abroad for profit.

  • In 2020, MLS took over U.S. Soccer's Development Academy and rebranded it as MLS Next. Now, it has its own league where those youngsters can cut their teeth.
  • "In the past, elite young players had to play in another league [like the USL], go on loan, or just not get enough minutes at the professional level," says Altchek. "None of those options were optimal."

Looking ahead: "I think many of the players on the field in the 2026 World Cup in North America will have played in MLS Next Pro in front of fans who get to be part of their story from an early age," says Altchek.

Go deeper