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MLS Motivates Teams to Invest in Youth With U22 Initiative

MLS is making an attempt at greater organic growth through its new U22 initiative.

Photo: Raul Romero Jr.

Major League Soccer has announced a new initiative geared toward the development of players 22 years or younger in an effort to make it easier for teams interested in signing them. MLS clubs will be allotted three U22 Initiative slots which they can use to sign age-appropriate players to contracts that won’t count as much towards their budget as it normally would. This provides additional, and potentially lucrative, opportunities for players from outside the United States and Canada as well as Homegrown signings and SuperDraft picks.

Players 20 years old or younger can make a maximum of $150,000 while players 21-23 years of age can earn up to $200,000. An individual can occupy the U22 Initiative slot until they turn 25, so long as they remain on their initial agreement. The same can apply to a Homegrown player for both their first and second contracts, provided they signed either one by the time they were 22, while SuperDraft players are eligible only on their second deal.

According to an MLS press release, a player must occupy a U22 Initiative slot for a minimum of two seasons unless “the compensation is greater than the Maximum Salary Budget Charge, in which case they must occupy a slot for at least three seasons.” Prior to meeting the minimum requirements for slot occupation length, clubs will have the right to transfer/loan the player outside of MLS, buy out their contract, or reclassify the individual as a Designated Player.

Despite a seemingly random choice of age (22), at the end of the day, anything MLS can do to deepen its talent pool is a step in the right direction for the sake of league-wide growth and competitive longevity. The creation of this initiative will produce a greater number of young players, resulting in additional loans or sales to clubs overseas, which, in turn, will generate more revenue for the league. It’s also a nod towards parity, giving small-market teams the chance to add relatively cheap talent to their roster whom they can develop and, if they so choose, sell for a profit.

Sure, there are potential pitfalls such as, richer, large-market clubs, dominating the U22 signings with the most impactful of players, whom a smaller club couldn’t afford. So, it’ll be interesting to see its long-term effectiveness or, quite possibly, lack thereof. It’s not a perfect plan but one that’s worth the effort nonetheless. MLS has come a long way since its inception in 1996, with a perpetual thirst for improvement and a willingness to continuously evolve. Whatever the case ultimately comes to be with this initiative, it’s an admirable attempt by the league to move toward greater organic growth.

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