MLS continues commitment to develop world-class players in leadup to 2026 FIFA World Cup
Refined player development competition will elevate playing environment for elite players
NEW YORK (April 15, 2020) – Major League Soccer today announced it will launch a new elite youth competition platform which will provide year-round high-level matches for MLS club academy teams, including Nashville SC Academy, and non-MLS academy teams that previously participated in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. The new platform will provide elite competition against domestic and international teams, and MLS is evaluating expanding participation to include clubs beyond the former Development Academy.
“Major League Soccer is deeply committed to developing world-class players through an elite competitive pathway, from our academy teams through the professional game,” said Todd Durbin, MLS Executive Vice President of Competition & Player Relations. “As we look ahead to the 2026 FIFA World Cup here in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, now more than ever it is incumbent on us to establish a competition that sets a new standard for elite youth play and allows athletes to achieve their full potential.”
The new platform will include league season matches and both regional and national tournaments with international teams. It will also expand coaching education and improve the approach to player identification to ensure top players have the opportunity to participate in a high-level development environment.
“We are seeing significant contribution to the quality of play in MLS from homegrown talent,” said Jeff Agoos, MLS Senior Vice President of Competition, Operations, and Medical Administration, two-time World Cup veteran with the U.S and five-time MLS Cup winner. “As we currently have 2,500 elite players and 250 top youth coaches in our academies, MLS is uniquely positioned to provide a new and enhanced platform that will include high quality coaching, professionalized environments and enhanced player identification.”
“Participating in high quality, competitive matches on a consistent basis is essential to the development of our young players,” said Fred Lipka, Vice President and Technical Director of MLS Player Development. “Launching this new competition will allow us to consistently challenge players, staffs and teams, optimizing the potential of every player on the field.”
In addition, MLS is evaluating the potential to provide future competition opportunities for girls.
1. Q: Why is Major League Soccer creating this new competition?
MLS is committed to player development and is establishing this new broader and more inclusive competition structure, that fills the void of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, to ensure young players are consistently competing in high quality games against top competition throughout the year.
As we reviewed the level of competition that our MLS club academy teams were facing in the Development Academy program, we found that while our teams were facing a certain number of strong teams, producing a high quality of competition in some games, the level was not consistently high and our players were not consistently challenged at the requisite level to impact the first team.
This is being established as a consistent and stable, long-term competition that will, year-over-year, continue to directly support and further accelerate domestic player development in advance of the 2026 World Cup – not just among MLS academy teams, but for non-MLS teams as well.
2. Q: What’s the vision for this new competition?
This competitive structure is built to elevate the level of competition and provide talent identification opportunities for all players throughout the youth soccer landscape allowing players to reach their ultimate potential while delivering meaningful value for clubs by optimizing effective talent identification practices.
The competition will be an important component of a larger development ecosystem aimed to integrate players and clubs from MLS academy teams and non-academy teams alike, providing not only top competition but also comprehensive talent identification for domestic players with professional aspirations.
3. Q: What type of competition will this new format provide?
The competition will be strategically organized to ensure clubs are competing in high-quality matches against top clubs – both domestic and then international through the GA Cup programming and beyond.
While this will offer some continuity with the Development Academy, meaning competition throughout the year, not just one or two tournaments. We are not simply replacing the Development Academy, we are evaluating the expansion of this elite competitive pathway to also include clubs beyond the former Development Academy.
4. Q: Who will participate in this new competition?
The platform will welcome MLS academies, including Nashville SC Academy, and non-MLS academies alike, allowing a wide range of players, staffs, and club personnel to benefit from this innovative approach to structuring a youth soccer competition with the end-result being a stronger youth soccer landscape.