A new soccer league kicks off in North America this year, as MLS Next Pro looks to begin play in March. The league will operate at the third level of the United States soccer pyramid, with 20 MLS clubs fielding second teams and Rochester New York FC serving as the inaugural independent member.
Beyond the stable of participants, little has been announced about how the league will operate once it debuts. The league appointed long-time MLS executive Charles Atlchek as its president while hiring Ali Curtis as senior vice president of competition and operations on the back of his work at both the MLS head office and, more recently, with the New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC.
The past couple of months have mostly been spent finalizing the league’s sporting rules and regulations, which sources say is still an ongoing process. But some details have been finalized and articulated to clubs as they begin to build their second teams.
MLS is known for having a complicated set of rules governing how its teams can build their rosters. Mechanisms like allocation money and the designated player rule aren’t found in other competitions across the world, while processes like the waiver draft and unrestricted free agency guidelines much more closely mirror American sports leagues than other soccer circuits.
However, MLS Next Pro will not emulate those bylaws. According to several sources, there will not be a salary cap for teams in the third-division league. Additionally, there is neither a minimum nor a maximum salary which teams can pay their players. That flexibility could allow for some clubs to take fliers on players coming from European leagues that can offer higher wages for young domestic players than MLS.
Another important detail is that players will be signing their agreements with each individual team, rather than being signed to the league itself, as first-team players are. As a result, teams and players will have more flexibility as they negotiate pay structures, bonuses and other clauses.