What is MLS Next? Everything You Need to Know
Last updated on October 3rd, 2023 at 01:46 pm
MLS NEXT is a U.S. and Canadian youth soccer league that is organized and overseen by the Major League Soccer (MLS).
It was first introduced in 2020 and replaced U.S. Soccer Development Academy (DA) which found itself in a financial hardship after the pandemic. In my opinion, the DA did a great job for a while to help govern youth soccer in the U.S. and create pathways for young soccer players.
With 11,000+ players and 590 teams from 133 different soccer clubs, MLS NEXT serves as a competitive environment for boys u13-u19.
As their slogan states “youth soccer reimagined”, MLS NEXT provides one of the best player development experiences in North America.
My son’s been playing MLS NEXT for the last two years and he’s had a very positive experience. Every team that he’s played in the northeast division has been outstanding. In his U15 group, teams like Toronto, New England Revolution, NEFC, NYCFC, NY Soccer Club are elite.
In this article, I’ll provide some more light on league and share our personal experiences.
Youth Teams in MLS NEXT
Currently, there are 590 teams from 133 soccer clubs in the U.S. and Canada.
In almost every popular region, players can find an opportunity to try out and potentially join an MLS Next team. Each club has its own format and process for evaluating players.
MLS NEXT clubs do a decent job of evaluating non-league teams to join the roster. Clubs are evaluated on several critical factors Including a well-defined soccer philosophy, quality of coaching, a history of producing high-caliber players, and professionalism as a youth organization.
Although many clubs have a team for every age from u13-u19, some don’t and may only provide a team for some age groups.
For example, many academy teams like New England Revs and Philly Union don’t have a u16 team. I’m not sure the reason why but it can cause some kids to have to jump ship to another team during that gap year.
To view teams and what age group they serve, an overview, and other information, head over to our MLS NEXT directory.
What is MLS NEXT Pro?
MLS NEXT PRO was launched in March 2022 by Major League Soccer (MLS). It is a professional men’s soccer league that completes the pro pathway from MLS NEXT.
The league is comprised of 27 teams from associated MLS clubs.
Major League Soccer has applied to the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) for MLS NEXT Pro to be sanctioned as a DIII pro league. This is one level down from the USL Championship and the same level of competition currently held by USL League One and the National Independent Soccer Association.
MLS NEXT Pro does not have a salary cap and the teams hold the rights to player contracts. Each team can have up to 24 professional players and seven can be international players.
By trying to fold in a “minor league”, MLS strengthens its path from the youth level to its professional teams.
What is the MLS Next Fest?
The MLS NEXT Fest features over 400 top youth soccer teams across the U.S. and Canada.
The seven-day event provides an opportunity for the best youth soccer players to display their talent in front of college coaches and scouts as well as national team and professional scouts.
Teams in all age groups (u13, u14, u15, u16, u17 and u19) play three games in four days. Each club competes against teams that may be at their level of play based on the regular season and past events but not necessarily in their regular season division.
Standout players throughout the event will be eligible to play in the MLS NEXT Fest Best Of matches where select players get to compete against one another.
Based on personal experience, it’s truly an exciting event for youth soccer players and teams looking to play on the “big stage”. For 3-5 days, it’s nothing but soccer (and fun)!
If you are looking to view the latest standings, head over to their official standings table.
Note: for the 2023/2024 season, the MLS NEXT standings aren’t published. I believe they are in the middle of switching platforms.
Each age group is listed by division and each table includes:
- Total Points
- Points Per Match (PPM)
- Matches Played (MP)
- Wins (W)
- Losses (L)
- Ties (T)
- Goals For Per Match (GF/M)
- Goals Against Per Match (GA/M)
- Goal Difference Per Match (GD/M)
These are typically up-to-date by midweek for the previous weekend’s games.
MLS NEXT vs. ECNL: Which One is Better?
Many clubs across the country have teams that participate in MLS NEXT and Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) but which one is better?
First off, let me start out by saying that each league offers a top-tier competitive environment. From a 10,000-foot view, there are a lot of similarities between both.
On the other hand, there are differences which I’ll address. This is important to keep in mind as you are evaluating the move for yourself or your child.
ECNL does a great job pulling together National Events which provides players across the U.S. a method for being scouted by college coaches. They are well-run events that don’t interfere with the regular or high school season. This is wonderful exposure and experience for talented boys and girls soccer players who are looking to play at the collegiate level.
MLS NEXT is geared more towards the D1 college or pro pathway. Obviously, not every athlete is professional material but the league is directly tied to MLS which makes it more of a direct path than ECNL. MLS NEXT is the top-tier in the youth soccer pyramid which makes it one level higher than ECNL.
Here’s a u15 MLS NEXT game with LA Galaxy versus Baltimore Armour…two very good teams.
Which league should your son play in? With the above said, player development should be the priority. Every club, team, and region is different. In some areas, ECNL teams are favored over MLS NEXT because it’s more established and/or there’s better coaching. While other organizations put more effort and investment into their MLS NEXT programs.
I recommend parents take a close look at all your options. Ask other parents what their thoughts are. Check out some games in your player’s age group. You can get a great idea of the style of play and coaching.
Also, look at the organization itself. Do they have a pyramid where players can advance? What kind of training do they focus on? What are the coaching qualifications and experiences? Answering these questions will give you a clearer picture of what path you may want to consider.
How to Join MLS NEXT League
If you are a player looking to join a MLS NEXT team in your area, you’ll need to get evaluated.
Most teams will offer an invite-only evaluation that occurs in the spring or early summer for the upcoming season.
Some clubs may offer open tryouts to place players on various teams under their organization.
Here is an informative video about how a talented young soccer player, Adolfo Diaz, joined their MLS Academy team.
Each club is different in its process so please check in and follow their updates.
If you are a soccer club looking to join the league, you’ll have to go through a stringent application process in the fall.
Let’s take a deep breath. I realize this was pretty in-depth but I think it’s important to understand what the league is all about.
I’m personally thrilled with how the league has turned out in such a short amount of time. The U.S. Soccer DA was the pinnacle of youth soccer but MLS NEXT has done a very good job in its replacement.
This is my son’s second season playing in the league and the competition has been great. We’re a club from New Hampshire but will travel to play MA, NY, NJ, and CT teams as part of the Northeast division.
Outside of league games, there are opportunities to play in showcases which were in Frisco, TX and Indigo, CA.
If you are looking to find a team in your state, check out our youth soccer directories.
Major League Soccer (MLS) is the top-tier professional league in the U.S. and Canada. While, MLS NEXT is the top-tier boys youth league in the U.S. and Canada.
MLS NEXT players are not permitted to play for their high school unless a waiver is in place. Some players will play for their high school in the fall and rejoin their MLS NEXT team for the spring season.
It depends. Some clubs are self-funded and parents aren’t responsible for any costs. Most clubs, however, can be anywhere from $2,500 to $4,500 to play. This excludes travel and other related expenses.
Note that some clubs do offer scholarships and/or financial aid packages.