Heading into Year 3 of MLS Next Pro, it's still not entirely clear what it is or what it wants to be. Somewhat born out of necessity – MLS reserve teams were likely going to get booted from the USL Championship – the league was launched with some lofty ambitions.
Yes, the bulk of the teams would be owned, operated and staffed by MLS parent clubs, but they were adamant this was not just going to be a third attempt at a Reserve League. A big part of that was the involvement of independently owned teams that would both raise the competition level and create a sense of legitimacy.
In Year 1, there was one independent team. Rochester New York FC was the reborn Rochester Rhinos – one of the most storied lower-division teams in American soccer history – and lasted one year. In Year 2, there were no independent teams. In Year 3, there are supposed to be two – Carolina Core and Chatanooga FC. The reborn Jacksonville Armada are slated to join in 2025 along with a team in Cleveland.
Chatanooga FC is an interesting case-study. They've been around since 2009 in one form or another, most recently playing in NISA. When it was announced that they were joining MLS Next Pro, I thought it was a bit odd. They consistently draw pretty big crowds and would seemingly be a better fit for the USL Championship.
I won't pretend to fully understand the reasons behind their thinking, but we did get some hint of it at the press conference announcing their move. During a question-and-answer session, MLS Next Pro President Charles Altcheck teased some potentially tectonic changes to the competition structure of his league as it looks to further expand.
"We’ve got an expansive vision for what this league will be in the future," Altcheck said. "We have 30 MLS-affiliated teams and roughly 10 to 20 to 30 independent teams in addition to that over time. When you think about what that could mean from a competition perspective, the scale — call it 40 teams — do we consider splitting into a second division and third division?
"Could you come up with some creative competition formats between divisions, between Division 2 MLS Next Pro, between Division 3 MLS Next Pro, between first division MLS? The sky’s the limit and there’s a lot of white space, but for now we’re focused on launching Season 3 in a big way."
Notably, Altcheck did not literally say the words "promotion-and-relegation" but he sure seems to be implying that possibility, at least between the lower divisions (how else would they be separated and what would the point even be of having two if you weren't going to do that?). Just the mere allusion to that possibility within the MLS world is pretty significant, as that's traditionally been a sort of third-rail conversation.
Now, it's of course possible that Altcheck is simply saying these things to help attract more independent teams. (At the very least, I'll believe in the likelihood of MLS Next Pro teams playing MLS teams in a real competition the minute it kicks off.) But it's at least interesting that league officials in both MLS and USL are talking about this stuff.
Looking back at the weekends's news
Copa America 2024 names two host venues; Gotham is going to celebrate after all; Wenger wants to change offside
The next few years feature massive, major men's soccer tournaments in the USA. Copa America 2024 will start and end in the South. Atlanta is opening the 16-team tourney and Miami hosts the finale. Seattle hosted the last time the two confederations had a combined tournament.
It took supporter group pressure and national embarrassment, but NWSL champions Gotham FC held a celebration in north Jersey Monday night.
There's lots of bad ideas on how to fix VAR's interpretation of offside. Arsène Wenger has another bad one – all it does is change the body parts under consideration, which doesn't actually change how VAR works at all.
Loss and advance, the USMNT way – Trinidad & Tobago beat the USA, but the aggregate goals go the Americans way. Dest saw a red. The US drops to 0-7-7 in their last 14 away matches in Concacaf competition. And has qualified for the Copa America 2024.
Luis Suárez sends message to Lionel Messi after Uruguay beat Argentina. No, he's not coming to Seattle. The rumor that could never die, died.
MLS free agency starts after the playoffs. For the first time a 24-year-old is a free agent. The MLS CBA requires both five years as an MLS professional and being 24 or older.
I almost plugged the D&D movie here, but I'm more professional now.
Puget Sound Soccer
Sounders return to action Sunday night. Reign and the NWSL began Free Agency today. Reign also updated their roster.
Stu Hawkins and the US U-17s play Germany at 12:30 a.m. PT Tuesday morning. You can watch on FS1 and Universo.
Josh Atencio and the US U-23s play Morocco at 6 a.m. PT Tuesday morning. This match may be on the US Soccer YouTube channel (the match against Iraq started there).
Nouhou and Cameroon continue men's World Cup qualifying at 8 a.m. PT Tuesday morning. FIFA+ has the match against Libya.
Lumen Field dedicated their entry plaza to the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. You can watch the video at the link below.