We got MLS NEXT. Austin FC plays its kids in new elite youth league

Goodbye US Development Academy, hello MLS NEXT.

Major League Soccer officially kicked off its elite youth development league in September 2020 under the brand MLS NEXT.

MLS NEXT runs six age brackets for boys: U13, U14, U15, U16, U17, and U19. It’s a massive youth system, with more than 9,000 players across 489 teams in three conferences (Western, Central, and Eastern).

Austin FC Academy only fields U13, U14, U15 teams currently, with plans to expand as players age through the system.

“MLS Next advances player development in North America, furthering Major League Soccer’s commitment to developing world-class players through an elite competitive pathway,” said Fred Lipka, Vice President and Technical Director of MLS Player Development. “Major League Soccer is excited to begin MLS Next competition which will place player development at the forefront while giving players a safe and healthy environment to advance from academies to MLS first teams.”

Fred Lipka, Vice President and Technical Director of MLS Player Development

2020-21 MLS NEXT clubs in Texas

One of nine teams to debut in Texas, Austin FC kicks off inaugural MLS NEXT play against San Antonio FC on Sept. 12, followed by Houston Dynamo on Sept. 19, and Dynamo Unidos on Sept. 27. The full team schedule has not been released yet.

Austin FC
FC Dallas
Houston Dynamo
Houston Dynamo Unidos
RGV FC Toros Academy
RISE Soccer Club (Houston, TX)
San Antonio FC
Solar Soccer Club (Dallas, TX)
Total Football Club (Houston, TX)

Among the 113 member clubs in North America, the breakout is as follows: 30 MLS professional academies, five USL academies, and 78 additional elite academies.

One important change with MLS Next is that academies are no longer limited to scouting in certain territories. In MLS Next, Austin FC Academy can recruit youth players across Texas and the country.

Will we see Academy players on the first team?

MLS Homegrown Player Rule allows MLS teams to sign local players from their own development academies directly to their first team rosters as an incentive to invest in their academy program.

There is no limit to the number of Homegrown Players a club may sign in any given year.

To be eligible as a homegrown player, the player must participate in the club’s academy for at least one year. These academy players do not count against the MLS salary budget if they are assigned supplemental roster slots, and they can earn a higher salary than the league minimum.

Clubs may use up to $200,000 of their currently available Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) to sign new homegrown players to their first MLS contract.

Austin FC expects to sign 1 to 2 homegrown players a year once the Academy gets established.

When do you think we’ll see an Academy player on Austin FC’s first team roster?

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