The race for spots in the 2022 MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs continues from May 13-17 when MLS NEXT Flex is held at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, Maryland.

The competition will feature 64 of the best MLS NEXT clubs from the U15, U16, U17 and U19 age groups, with 16 teams in each age division able to secure a place in the impending MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs.

The 2021-22 MLS NEXT season culminates with the 2022 MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs, which will occur at Toyota Soccer Center in Frisco, Texas from June 25 to July 3. That event will feature the top 128 teams in the program, breaking down as 32 from each age group.

“The assembled group of clubs at MLS NEXT Flex represent the best academies across the United States and Canada, all of which have demonstrated a strong history of player development and sought the highest levels of competition,” MLS Vice President, Player and Youth Development Fred Lipka said in a release. “MLS NEXT Flex is an essential addition to the MLS NEXT season and developmental process and will be instrumental in further enhancing the competition in our league.”

Format, qualification

Clubs in each of the four age groups qualified for MLS NEXT Flex on a points-per-game basis in each of MLS NEXT’s eight divisions. Qualifying clubs were assigned into 16 groups of four via a draw in the month of April, and the champions of each of these groups will automatically qualify for the MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs. 

The 80-minute U15 matches and 90-minute U16, U17 and U19 matches that end regulation in a draw will move to penalty kicks. The winner of penalty kicks will earn two points, while the loser will take home one point.

MLS NEXT Flex will also provide an opportunity for North America’s top youth talent to be seen by college, youth national team and professional coaches, as well as scouts and evaluators, in a singular location. The MLS NEXT Match Evaluator program, which features former professional players who are trained on-site to identify top talent, will continue at both MLS NEXT Flex and in the MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs.