Crew MLS NEXT

MLS NEXT’s third year of play is here, with the competition growing and changing upon each iteration. And 2022-23 is no exception.

Offering a platform for youngsters aspiring to play soccer at the highest level, MLS NEXT features play at Under-13 through Under-19 age groups.

The season kicks off this weekend (Sept. 10), and will officially wrap with next summer’s MLS NEXT Cup, set for the middle of June. Over the next 10 months, top youth sides from around the US and Canada will be pushing each other on the field, from MLS academies to storied youth programs.

During the 2022-23 campaign, there’s plenty to look forward to aside from regular-season play. Similar to last year, there will be a December event in California, while the Generation adidias Cup shifts to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. There will also be an MLS NEXT Flex event in May to serve as a qualifying competition for next June’s MLS NEXT Cup.

MLS NEXT 2022-23 Season Schedule
MLS NEXT 2022-23 Season Schedule
DATES
EVENT
LOCATION
Sept. 10, 2022
MLS NEXT 2022-23 season kicks off
Dec. 2-8, 2022
MLS NEXT Fest
Empire Polo Ground; Indio, Calif.
April 1-9, 2023
Generation adidas Cup
IMG Academy; Bradenton, Fla.
May 12-16, 2023
MLS NEXT Flex
Maryland SoccerPlex; Boyds, Md.
June 17-25, 2023
MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs & Showcase
Toyota Soccer Center; Frisco, Texas
MoneyGram Soccer Park; Dallas, Texas
July 18, 2023
MLS NEXT All-Star Game presented by Allstate
Washington, D.C.

Here’s a look at some of the teams to watch in each age group.

TEAMS TO WATCH

Under-15 (Born in 2008)

The youngest age group to offer MLS NEXT Cup as a season finale, it’s also the one with the most variance when it comes to player development.

LAFC: Just about any age group could be a team to watch from LAFC. This is a talented squad at this point in each player’s development, and includes recent United States U-15 call-ups Liam Lambert, Jude Terry, David Yeghoyan (who joins for this season from MLS NEXT side LA United Futbol Academy), Ethan Scally and Pedro Guimaraes. Terry is a young but very talented central midfielder that has also been in Mexican youth national team camps.

Sacramento Republic FC: The NorCal side tends to always field competitive youth sides, and the Under-14s were strong last year. Chance Cowell, the younger brother of Cade, played up with the U-15s last year and will be eligible again.

New York Red Bulls: It’s shaping up to be a fairly strong U-15 squad for the Red Bulls, as several players from last year’s team played up as 2008s. Goalkeeper Aidan Stokes is one of four players that earned a call-up to the recent US youth national team ID camp.

Real Salt Lake: After coming up short in the title game to Inter Miami, RSL return a handful of players from last year’s U-15s. That includes Luca Moisa, William Mackay and Axel Uriostegui, who were starters in that last game. Recent US youth call-ups Juan Villa and Omar Marquez make this a formidable group ahead of the season.

Under-16 (Born in 2007)

The U-16 age group is something of an in-between stage in youth soccer. Some of the best players born in 2007 may play up with 06s, though it’s not ubiquitous. It does give late bloomers more opportunities to play, however.

Inter Miami CF: Champions at the U15 age group, Inter Miami are set to field a U-16 team for the first time. The entire starting lineup from the MLS NEXT Cup winners were all born in 2007, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see some play at this age group, though the top prospects are sure to finish the season playing up an age group.

FC United: The Chicagoland outfit fields quality sides that are extremely competitive. A playoff team a year ago, forward Antonio Delgado and Kamil Kowalczyk should be two of their most important returning players from last season.

Breakers FC: An impressively talented group of 2007s were one of the best teams at the age group, in or out of the pro ranks. There’s sure to be a bit of turnover with Northern California club options, but this group should be extremely competitive nevertheless.

FC Dallas: Launching a team at this age group for the upcoming season, FCD’s approach will be interesting. Part of the academy’s success has been aggressively promoting players up age groups, so this could be a team for promising 08s to compete with players born in 2007. Watching the organization’s approach at this age group will be interesting in the upcoming campaign.

Under-17 (Born in 2006)

This age group is a critical point in development. While not every player’s pro potential will be known at this point, a small number of them who still play at this age group may have already signed a pro contract. For other top players, the college pathway emerges as an option. It’s also a big age group this season, as 2006 is the cut-off for players looking to make the US Under-17 qualifying team for the World Cup.

Strikers FC: After reaching last year’s MLS NEXT Cup final, the Strikers will look to back that up while competing against the best of SoCal and beyond. Replicating that run as they move up an age group will be difficult, but it’s a talented team that includes Gavin Rivas and Dalton Bulowski.

St. Louis City SC: Exceptionally strong in last year’s Under-16 team, finishing as MLS NEXT Cup semifinalists, that should leave this squad as a very strong group in 2022-23. Caden Glover has US youth national team experience, while Aaron Heard brings flair and creativity from the wing.

D.C. United: Edging Strikers FC in the U-16 final earlier this summer, there should be minimal turnover from a talented D.C. squad. Recent homegrown signing Matai Akinmboni is likely to feature more often for Loudoun United (second team), though he will be eligible for this age group. Graham Jones, Gavin Turner and goalkeeper Luke Peacock are some of the other names to watch.

Philadelphia Union: Defending champions at this age group, several 2006s picked up valuable experience during last year’s MLS NEXT Cup-winning squad. There are holes to fill, but several key players like Gavin Wetzel, Daniel Krueger, David Vazquez and Alex Perez should be back to lead the title defense.

Under-19 (Born in 2004/05)

The bulk of the oldest age group in MLS NEXT features top independent clubs, as the bulk of professional academies aggressively promote prospects to MLS NEXT Pro sides. As a result, some MLS teams don’t operate Under-19 teams or choose to operate in more local leagues. However, there are exceptions as shown by the 2022 MLS NEXT Cup champions New England Revolution.

Barca Academy: Several current pros have come through the ranks at Barca Academy, located in Casa Grande, Arizona. Bryce Duke (Inter Miami CF) and Caden Clark (New York Red Bulls) are among the current MLSers that played there. They should be formidable at this age group in the upcoming season, bringing back talent from the U-17 and U-19 teams that both qualified for MLS NEXT Cup. Forward Bryce Jamison was recently called up to the US Under-17 squad and was an MLS NEXT All-Star, all while playing up as a 2006.

Columbus Crew: Columbus’ young and talented group progressed all the way to the U-17 final at MLS NEXT Cup, coming up just short against the Philadelphia Union. The bulk of that squad is set to move up to play for the Under-19 team, though some could certainly feature for Crew II in MLS NEXT Pro. The midfield should be strong, anchored by MLS NEXT All-Star Giorgio De Libera and Taha Habroune. Goalkeeper Stanislav Lapkes was stellar in the playoffs, and while he was born in 2006, could feature at the oldest age group as well.

FC Delco: While the Philadelphia Union feature significant talent from the region, top clubs like Delco and PA Classics do a very good job for the players either released from the academy or staying on the college-bound path. The 2005s at Delco have some game-changers at the club level, and the 2005s went on a deep run this past summer. Caden Grabfelder and Liam May are some of the players expected to compete for Delco in the upcoming season.

Weston FC: A testament to the talent and depth of South Florida-based players can be seen in Weston FC. Even with the presence of Inter Miami, teams like Weston and Miami Rush Kendall are more than competitive in both a regional and national capacity. Weston’s 05s should be primed and ready for another deep run after progressing to MLS NEXT Cup earlier this year, and will be a tough side to handle.