DALLAS, Texas — Last night kicked off the first game of the MLS NEXT Pro. So, what is this new league, who’s a part of it, and what can we expect from North Texas SC this season?
The first ever match of this new league was held last night, between future MLS expansion side Saint Louis City SC, and the league’s only team without an MLS affiliate, Rochester New York FC.
That game resulted in a 2-0 win for SLC. Highlights, stats, and interviews for that game can be found here.
The league will host 21 teams total that are split into two conferences. Each conference has two divisions made up of four-to-five teams.
Eight of these teams played last season in the USL League One or Championship, and have now made the move to the MLS backed program. After years of trying to make the USL a gateway into MLS, the league decided it was time to take things into their own hands.
Where NTSC comes in:
North Texas SC reside in the Frontier Division as part of the Western Conference. After three successful seasons in USL L1, the team will be debuting in their new league, against Minnesota United II.
The team’s first game will also be their home-opener at Choctaw Stadium, located in Arlington, Texas. That game will kick off tonight at 8 p.m and can be watched here.
Unlike some MLS sides, FC Dallas already has a second team in place, one that’s already proven and knows how to develop talent.
General Manager Matt Denny said, “There are so many changes for us, including staff, everything’s new. We’re kind of fortunate because we had a team in place and we know what we’re doing, so long as we continue to build on that, things will run smoothly.”
As for tonight’s game, coach Pa-Modou Kah said the team will focus on running a 4-3-3 with a hard running, high pressing game plan.
Veteran stars such as Derek Waldeck and Collin Smith will likely start, and we may see a glimpse of young stars such as Isaiah Parker, the third overall pick in this years MLS SuperDraft.
With the MLS on break for international games, we may also see a few players come down from the first team. Something Denny said was possible, so long as they earn their spot in the lineup.
What makes this year unique:
MLS NEXT Pro is Major League Soccer’s attempt to expand the American soccer market beyond MLS. They believe this league can function as a gateway for players and coaches and will overall improve the American soccer market.
League President Charles Altchek has been adamant on social media in the past few days that this league is largely based on bringing together communities, developing players and staff, and creating soccer related jobs.
His hope is that this league will function as a stepping stone between MLS NEXT, the league’s developmental program, to MLS, by creating a professional level of competition in between.
Possibly the biggest selling point for this league is that every game is free to watch. Every match this season will be streamed live at https://www.mlsnextpro.com/.
One of the more interesting aspects of this league are the rule changes, the most prominent being the change to how ties are recorded. Whereas normally, a tie would result in both teams securing one point. Here, every tie will result in a penalty shootout, with the losing team securing one point, and the winners securing two.
There are also no team salary caps or player contracts designated by the league, but instead by each individual team.
Rosters may include up to 24 professional players and up to 10 amateur players.
There are also up to 7 international spots available per team, those spots can be included in trades however.
The biggest element is a team’s interaction with their major league counterpart. Not only players can jump between the two rosters, but stadiums, facilities, and more can be shared between development and pro sides.
The sole non-MLS-affiliated roster, Rochester, embodies all that this league hopes to establish. A long-standing semi-professional team, that’s overcome financial and developmental obstacles through keen business decisions and a strong connection to its fanbase.
After bouncing around leagues and four years of being inactive, it was a popular name in world football that instigated the team's comeback. Jamie Vardy, England and Leicester City striker has worked hard to promote the league, as well as his new investment into the Rochester franchise.
Much of the interest in creating such a league comes from NTSC’s successful investment into its program. The recent development of MLS starters and $20 million dollar man Ricardo Pepi, gave the league some insight into a previously untapped market.
Clubs such as FC Dallas, Philadelphia Union, and the Vancouver Whitecaps have become the model. Systems that develop local talent into either an MLS starter or a massive price-tag for the European market.
Down the line, this league will also function as the testing ground of inter-league and international cups and competitions. Similar to what the Premier League has with the F.A. and Carabao cups.
The league also plans to expand to make room for eight more MLS 2 teams in 2023. This season will set the base for a lot of what MLS has planned down the line.