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Major League Soccer (MLS) MLS North America

MLS will create new youth league involving 95 clubs

MIAMI (May 17, 2020) Major League Soccer is ready to create a new youth league this afternoon, according to a source who spoke with Russo Soccer. 

All 30 MLS clubs — the 26 current and four incoming expansion teams — will participate in the league, which will also include five USL Championship teams and 60 non-professional clubs, for a first season total of 95 teams. 

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The new league will include Under-13, -14, -15, -17 and -19 age groups. MLS teams will be required to field U-15 and U-17 squads, but it will be up to individual clubs if they want to field teams in the other four age groups.

While specific alignment details are yet to be worked out, the expectation is that the various age groups will be divided into separate MLS and non-MLS divisions, and that MLS academies will primarily play other MLS academies, and non-MLS clubs will primarily play against each other in their own circuit. There will be some crossover between the divisions in regular season and cup competition for the U-15 and U-17 age groups, but it will be somewhat minimal, with the source stating it would probably be on the order of 15 to 20 percent of the total number of games.

The plans will include the creation of a governing body comprised of representatives from MLS, some non-MLS clubs and possibly additional representation from NCAA coaches, the U.S. Soccer Federation and the Canadian Soccer Association.

Five USL teams are set to be members in this new youth league, but the likelihood is that Saint Louis FC will fold, leaving four USL teams. Those four — Phoenix Rising, RGV FC Toros Academy, San Antonio FC, Tampa Bay United Rowdies, will also take part in the USL academy league. (see details of the USL’s new academy setup).

The new MLS youth league will fill in the void that the USSF left youth soccer in after its decision on April 15 to eliminate the development academy (“DA”) system:

All MLS academies played in the DA, leaving them with no home when it folded. Some non-MLS boys clubs that previously played in the DA have joined a competitor known as the Elite Club National League in the weeks since it was shut down. 

The league is expected to follow the same fall-to-spring format that the DA followed, subject to any changes required by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

MLS concerns are driving the structuring of the league. MLS clubs have often had the opinion that the DA was not challenging enough for their teams, something that they have expressed to the USSF. That concern will be eliminated now that the MLS academies will compete in their own division. To address MLS’ concerns, the USSF had split its U-19 age group into two tiers ahead of the final DA season. The top tier included all 21 MLS clubs that participated in the age group, three USL clubs and 13 non-professional clubs. The lower tier included 44 non-professional teams.

With the new league, there may also be room for MLS teams to compete in more international competitions (again once the COVID-19 crisis is over) Many MLS clubs feel that playing matches and tournaments against foreign clubs offers a higher level of competition over non-professional domestic teams.

One of the downsides is that the new, multi-division structure will likely mean additional travel for all participating clubs. With opponents located further apart from each other, the result will be longer trips and higher travel costs. Only requiring MLS teams to field teams in the U-15 and U-17 age groups will mitigate that for those top-tier clubs, but the sources said that there will be “financial questions” for USL and non-professional academies interested in fielding teams in more than just two age groups. 

MLS stands to benefit from the new league in terms of adding depth to its academies. If the top tier of the new league is close to an MLS-only youth league, it can be anticipated that more top U.S. and Canadian players interested in testing themselves against other top players will enter MLS academies. That will require sacrifice on the part of players and their families, who may need to relocate in order to join up with an MLS youth program.  

Here is a list of tll list of the 65 non-MLS clubs, known as “founding members”: 

  1. Phoenix Rising FC (USL)
  2. RGV FC Toros Academy (USL)
  3. Saint Louis FC (USL)
  4. San Antonio FC (USL)
  5. Tampa Bay United Rowdies (USL)
  6. Barca Residency Academy (AZ)
  7. IMG Academy, Bradenton, FL
  8. Shattuck-St. Mary’s (MN)
  9. NEFC, Holliston, MA
  10. San Francisco Glens
  11. Albion SC (CA)
  12. Ballistic United (CA)
  13. Baltimore Armour
  14. Bayside Futebol Club, East Providence/Bristol, Rhode Island
  15. Beachside of Connecticut
  16. Bethesda FC (MD)
  17. Blau Weiss Gottschee (NY)
  18. Breakers (CA)
  19. Cedar Stars Academy Bergen (NJ)
  20. Cedar Stars Academy Monmouth (NJ)
  21. Chargers Soccer Club
  22. Chicago FC United
  23. Chula Vista FC
  24. Cincinnati Premier Soccer Club
  25. City SC (CA)
  26. De Anza Force (CA)
  27. Empire United Soccer Academy (NY)
  28. FC Delco (PA)
  29. FC Greater Boston Bolts
  30. FC Westchester (NY)
  31. Florida Rush Soccer Club
  32. Indiana Fire Academy
  33. Internationals (OH)
  34. Jacksonville FC
  35. L.A. United Football Academy
  36. LA Surf Soccer Club
  37. Lanier Soccer Academy (GA)
  38. Metropolitan Oval, Queens, NYC
  39. Miami Rush Kendall SC
  40. Michigan Wolves
  41. Murrieta Surf Soccer Club (CA)
  42. New York Soccer Club
  43. Nomads (CA)
  44. Oakwood Soccer Club (CT)
  45. PA Classics
  46. Player Development Academy (NJ)
  47. Real Colorado
  48. RISE Soccer Club (TX)
  49. RSL Arizona
  50. Santa Barbara Soccer Club
  51. SC Del Sol (AZ)
  52. Seacoast United, New Hampshire
  53. SF Elite
  54. Silicon Valley SA (CA)
  55. Sockers FC Chicago
  56. Solar Soccer Club (TX)
  57. South Florida Football Academy
  58. Southern Soccer Academy (GA)
  59. Total Futbol Academy (CA)
  60. TSF Academy (NJ)
  61. Valeo Futbol Club, Massachusetts
  62. VARDAR Soccer Club (MI)
  63. Ventura County Fusion (CA)
  64. West Florida Flames
  65. Weston FC, Weston, FL

By Ken Russo

My work in the business of soccer applies skills acquired in law practice with a focus on the sport's commercial, communications and sporting components. Russo Soccer aims to inform, educate and engage in dialogue on news and relevant issues in the game.

Um advogado por formação, concentro meu trabalho nos negócios, comunicações e operações de equipes no futebol mundial. | Abogado con fundación avanzada en comunicaciones, enfocado en los negocios del fútbol y las comunicaciones. | Je suis un avocat experimenté dans les affaires de football.

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