Rochester NYFC, which includes Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy in its owning group, will be one of 21 teams that will compete in the new developmental league of Major League Soccer, which begins play in 2022, MLS announced on Monday.
The league, MLS NEXT Pro, will feature 20 teams affiliated with MLS clubs in addition to Rochester NY, which was rebranded from Rochester Rhinos in September.
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For Vardy, the chance for Rochester to get into a league with an eye on development was a huge draw.
“I think the huge thing is of course the development side,” Vardy told ESPN. “That’s one thing we want to do.” “We were looking at MLS NEXT [MLS’s affiliated youth league] Players and we think there are quite a few of them that have the potential to come in and play with us right away in 2022. So, to go to the MLS NEXT Pro League, it was kind of a no-brainer.”
Rochester previously competed in the USL Championship, before stopping in 2017. The club is the only non-MLS team to have won the US Open since the launch of MLS in 1996 and will resume participation in the competition.
Charles Alczyk, former senior vice president of league growth and operations at MLS, has been named president of MLS NEXT Pro, while former Toronto FC general manager Ali Curtis will be senior vice president of competition and operations.
“Charles and Ali have the experience, enthusiasm, and values to lead the growth and development of MLS NEXT Pro,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. “They will partner with MLS affiliated and independent teams to bring professional football to more communities across North America.”
Nine MLS clubs will not be represented in the MLS NEXT Pro during its 2022 debut season: Atlanta United FC, Austin FC, Charlotte FC, DC United, LAFC, LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, CF Montreal and Nashville SC. Of this group, all but Montreal will play a team in the league in 2023 and beyond, with the possibility of additional independent clubs.
Vardy said that while MLS clubs will primarily use the league to get minutes for younger players, Rochester New York will not rely solely on youth.
“With us being independent, I think it’s probably going to be a little different for us,” Vardy said. “We will be able to scale each market starting with the young ones. If they are good enough to play, they are good enough to play. It doesn’t matter. Age is just a number so we are sure we put the best quality so we can compete.”
Rochester has yet to announce its head coach, but that is expected to come in the coming days, and the players will follow. The club has a partnership with the Empire United Youth Academy, which is expected to be a direct source of player acquisition.
The league will begin in March, a month after the start of the 2022 Major League Soccer season, and end in September.