It’s a new era for soccer development in North America.
A total of 64 elite academy clubs which formerly participated in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy will join MLS’s existing club academies as part of a new elite player development platform that is set to transform youth player development in the United States and Canada.
The 94 clubs become founding members of the new platform which will include more than 8,000 players throughout the U.S. and Canada and will consist of elite year-round competition, as well as player identification initiatives, coaching education opportunities, and additional programming to create the premier player development environment.
The platform will operate with a groundbreaking governance structure that promotes collaboration, innovation and input across all areas of the soccer landscape. Within the structure, technical working groups will provide recommendations on the platform’s strategic objectives and standards, outline competition guidelines and formats, as well as introduce platform programming. By unifying the elite player development landscape and creating a collaborative structure, the new platform will accelerate and enhance player development in North America.
Applications for additional clubs to join will be available in the coming weeks. More information about the competition structure as well as the platform’s official brand will be announced at a later date.
With a focus on maximizing each player’s potential, the new development platform will not only provide high-level, year-round competition for players, but will provide important programming, education and innovation in the key areas of player development:
- Player Identification
- Personal Growth
- Community Outreach
“There is strong positive momentum and excitement among MLS club academies and elite academy clubs to co-create a platform that will deliver an unparalleled experience for the nation’s top players and clubs,” said Fred Lipka, VP and Technical Director of MLS Player Development. “The development of professional and elite players requires a comprehensive and integrated approach, beyond just the competition format, and we are having daily conversations with academy clubs across the country who are committed to building that environment with us.”
Since launching the MLS club academy initiative in 2007, Major League Soccer has demonstrated unprecedented commitment to the development of top level professional players in the United States and Canada, including an investment of more than $70 million last season alone. This investment has produced more than 250 homegrown players that have become professional and national team players, including recent standout players such as Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas, Solar Soccer Club), James Sands (New York City FC academy, New York Soccer Club) and Matt Real (Philadelphia Union, FC Delco).
The elite academy clubs that are Founding Members of the new platform have also been leaders in the development of players for college, MLS and the national teams. Combined, MLS Academies and the elite academies joining the platform have produced more than 90 percent of the U.S. Youth National Team players in the last year, making the new platform the top destination for the best young players in North America.
With the launch of this new platform, MLS and the elite academy clubs will not only continue to develop world class players but will create a world class soccer development culture that supports and inspires elite players throughout the countries.
“The Sockers FC Chicago organization is excited about this great opportunity to collaborate with MLS, in the development of this new competition platform,” said David Richardson, Sockers FC Chicago Technical Director. “In our soccer communities we feel that our work as leaders of Elite Academies alongside the leaders of MLS Academies will help to shape a world-class soccer culture in our country. This will be a benefit to all that play, coach, referee, and support our game from the grassroots to the professional level.”
“Major League Soccer’s inclusive approach to the greater soccer market is the most exciting aspect of this movement,” said Ryan Miller, Portland Timbers Academy Director. “This new competition will continue to provide a platform for the top player development clubs in the country to get the most meaningful games. Elite player development requires the highest level of competition and this platform will provide that.”
At the Club Level
The MLS NEXT is a full-time, 10-month program. The season begins in September and concludes with Championships in July. Clubs will break from league play for periods of inactivity due to weather and the end of the season.
Each of the older MLS NEXT teams play between 25 and 30 league games per season, including 6-9 games played at Showcases. Teams that advance from the Playoffs could expect to play up to three (3) additional games.
MLS NEXT clubs can expect 15-20 away matches in a given season, some of which will require overnight travel. Exact travel distances will vary between clubs depending on their geographic proximity to their conference opponents and Academy events. The younger teams will have reduced travel.
Each team’s calendar will vary depending on their conference and climate. The MLS NEXT will provide the framework for the league structure of the program (assigning match-ups on given weekends); however, it is the club’s responsibility to secure and communicate game times and field locations with MLS NEXT staff.
MLS NEXT players and teams cannot play in any outside competitions without written permission from the MLS NEXT staff. This includes any other leagues, high school season, tournaments, State Cup competitions, ODP or All-Star events. There are two potential exceptions to this rule, provided they are approved by MLS NEXT staff:
Domestic and International Tournaments:
Domestic & international tournaments may be permitted if they meet MLS NEXT technical standards of one game per day and elite competition. Examples of permitted events include the Dallas Cup, Surf Cup, Disney Showcase, and other International events
Possibility for friendly games: MLS NEXT clubs can schedule friendly games to provide players with a heightened development experience. The games must not be part of an organized competition (i.e. tournament, league or camp) as defined in the non-participation regulations, and all competitions must adhere to all MLS NEXT standards and guidelines.