Sporting Kansas City II has been confirmed as one of 21 clubs competing in the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro season in 2022, which will see the return of a local rivalry. In an announcement on Monday afternoon, the statement said SKC II will be one of 20 teams in the league affiliated to MLS.
SKC II previously spent its first six years in the USL Championship competing against other MLS developmental teams as well as many clubs playing to win titles. The statement said MLS NEXT Pro “will offer young players and experienced professionals the opportunity to develop and showcase their talents.”
The league will begin in March of 2022 and each team will play 24 guaranteed games, compared to 32 guaranteed games in a normal USL season. There will be an eight-team playoff to fight for the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro championship in September. Eight other MLS-affiliated teams will join the league in 2023.
The NEXT Pro pathway to @MLS.— Don Garber (@thesoccerdon) December 6, 2021
Today our league announces a new game changer in the North American Soccer landscape with the launch of @MLSNEXTPRO.
21 clubs will be competing in the inaugural season of our new league. pic.twitter.com/4CtUPSESkN
This announcement comes after SKC II parted ways with manager Paulo Nagamura and other offseason moves. Monday’s announcement from MLS revealed that SKC II will compete in the Western Conference, alongside 10 other clubs.
One of those Western Conference foes will be St. Louis. The I-70 rivalry will begin in MLS NEXT Pro in 2022 before making its highly anticipated MLS debut in 2023 when Sporting KC and St. Louis City SC face off. With existing rivalries between the two cities in indoor soccer (KC Comets and STL Ambush) and baseball (KC Royals vs STL Cardinals), the professional soccer rivalry will be reignited after St. Louis FC ceased operations after the 2020 USL Championship season.
I am intrigued by St. Louis coming into MLS Next Pro earlier than their entrance to MLS. Seems a very smart move.— Mike (@downthebyline) December 6, 2021
The Eastern Conference will consist of 10 teams, including the only independent club, Rochester NY FC. Rochester recently rebranded, formerly known as Rochester Rhinos, and is co-owned by Leicester City star Jamie Vardy. They will be joined by other independent clubs in the future, the league “will introduce additional independent clubs to the league in 2023 and beyond.”