MLS formally announced the launch of their new professional league on Monday. The long-rumored league will essentially serve as a bit of a middle ground between the old Reserve League and the current setup, which features so-called “MLS2” teams fielding squads in the USL Championship and USL League One. Although MLS did not announce what kind of sanctioning the new league will seek, previous reports have suggested they’ll be Division 3, the same as USL-L1.
In its announcement, MLS seems to envision this league as a pathway between MLS NEXT — the academy league that launched last year — and the first teams. The league plans to start play in 2022 with 20 MLS-operated teams along with some independent teams. The Tacoma Defiance are expected to be one of those teams, marking the end of the Sounders’ involvement in the USL.
“In addition to providing more opportunities for MLS-caliber players, the new league will develop a diverse talent pool of coaches, referees and front office executives while also attracting fans who previously were unable to support a local club in their hometown,” MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott said in a league release.
A report in The Athletic said MLS will allow its teams to continue fielding teams in USL, at least until 2023 and potentially beyond. The Sounders had only previously committed to remaining in the USL through this season, which will apparently be their last.
Assuming MLS doesn’t restrict participation, the Sounders could have potentially fielded teams in both this new league and USL Championship to create an even longer bridge from the academy to the first team. As it is, the Defiance rarely have room on their roster for unsigned Academy players and a lower-division team could provide more advanced opportunities, especially in light of the Sounders not fielding a U19 team in MLS NEXT.
Note: This story was updated from the original version to reflect original reporting in place of speculation.