by Ryan Bailey

Major League Soccer’s new development platform will provide an elite level of competition for Charlotte players—and a clear pathway to national and first team stardom

CHARLOTTE—Major League Soccer has announced a brand-new player development platform, in which Charlotte Football Club will play its first-ever competitive matches.

MLS NEXT, launching this month, features over 9,000 players from 113 clubs across the United States. The youth league competition brings together 30 MLS academies, five USL academies and 78 additional elite academies. Over 90 percent of the current youth player pool will be incorporated in the revolutionary new set-up.

For Charlotte FC’s U14 and U17 teams, this means more competitive games, a clearer pathway towards a professional career, and greater potential for exposure to the national team program.

“MLS NEXT is a very exciting prospect for US Soccer development and our players,” says Charlotte FC Academy Manager Dan Lock. “We will be able to take advantage of a higher level of competition, high-quality training environments, streamlined and more collaborative talent identification, and an increased focus on individual growth.”

MLS NEXT’s mission is to provide the best player development experience in North America via a nationwide competition. However, in accordance with guidance and safety protocols from federal, state and local government officials, the 2020 competition will follow a regional format, highlighting local rivalries and eliminating air travel and overnight trips.

The MLS NEXT fall 2020 schedule will be created and announced in four-week phases in order to adjust to evolving health and safety recommendations.

Charlotte FC will play its first matches in the competition on September 19th against Southern Soccer Academy, an elite program based in Atlanta, GA.

“MLS has done a magnificent job in pulling this off, considering all that has happened in the past six months,” says Charlotte FC Technical Director Marc Nicholls. “This platform will raise the national standard, and it’s crucial for our players to be exposed to the highest level of competition.

“MLS NEXT will increase collaboration between MLS club and elite academies, which in turn will allow us to attract and develop the very best talent.”

Not only does MLS NEXT clarify the pathway to the professional game, but it also serves as a means of early exposure towards the national team setup.

“Ultimately, we are all trying to work together to produce top U.S. professional players that can compete with the world’s elite,” says Lock. “The holistic nature of the platform allows us to better identify the nation’s best talent and get them on the professional pathway.

“In theory, it will make it easier to identify the next Christian Pulisic.”

Something that truly sets MLS NEXT apart from previous player development platforms is its collaborative and innovative governance structure. Designed to foster innovation across all member clubs, the platform will not be governed centrally, but rather by coaches and staff from across the nation.

“The governance structure is more democratic, and it gives a voice from each club and region,” says Lock, who will serve as one of the Chairs for the Eastern Conference and a member of the Commercial Working Group.

In furthering Major League Soccer’s commitment to producing world-class players, the platform also focuses on an often-overlooked aspect of player development: individual growth.

“We want this platform to be very player-centric,” says Lock. “ It’s about the players and for the players.

“Our methods will mirror MLS NEXT’s vision and standards on individual player development and personal growth.”

Charlotte FC’s Academy players are days away from achieving another historic milestone, when they will wear the crest on the field in a competitive environment for the first time. And that competitive environment will prepare them for their future, both in soccer and in life.