MLS Next Pro-What We Know So Far
Who will be the first professional players to wear the CITY crest? That answer is right around the corner. St. Louis CITY SC's division III professional club that will compete in the new MLS Next Pro league will kick off in March 2022. The anticipation and excitement have been building for this squad for the past half year since the league and St. Louis's participation was first announced. MLS Next Pro is a new initiative by MLS to fully bridge the gap internally, between their MLS Next Academy league and the top-level MLS. For St. Louis in particular, this is designed to provide a seamless path to pro from The U-14 level to the absolute top league that US Soccer has to offer. While most fans and those who are interested are undoubtedly clamoring for 2023 to arrive and bring with it the launch of our MLS team and everything that comes with that, 2022's launch of the St. Louis CITY SC Next Pro side will provide that first glimpse at who might be on the 2023 roster.
**The below has been updated on 1/28 to reflect the latest information made public.**
Season schedules have yet to be released and the club has yet to release an official pre-season schedule or roster, but as of January 28th we have multiple games confirmed by other sources as well as a few players rumored to be participating already.
⦁ February 11th vs FC Cincinnati at the Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex in Clearwater, FL
⦁ February 25th at Indy Eleven - CLOSED DOOR
* March 1 at Maryville University
⦁ March 5th vs Louisville City FC in St. Louis (exact location TBA)
⦁ TBA vs St. Louis University at Hermann Stadium in St. Louis
US Open Cup
⦁ April 5th-7th. 2nd round matchup. Opponent TBD
Rosters, and rules for that matter, are structured quite differently in MLS Next Pro than in MLS. In part, this is to facilitate continued development of the Academy and non-professional players as well as provide a competitive professional environment. How will our roster be crafted? We know there can be between 12-24 contracted pros and up to an additional 11 amateur players on the roster. Amateurs will consist of current Academy players and those wishing to retain collegiate eligibility. We are assuming these are designations that will be placed on players with the league. Ex: Jackson Delkus, currently on our U-16 team, might be registered on our roster as an amateur, retaining his ability to compete in our Academy going forward.
How is our roster shaking out so far? With February 11 being our first reported pre-season matchup, we know shockingly little about our overall roster, though this appears to be the case with all MPS Next Pro clubs. With no official news coming from the club, we're relying on secondhand information and rumors to speculate who is on the roster. Steven Goff, a typically reliable writer for the Washington Post has reported that Josh Yaro, a defender most recently with San Diego Loyal in USL-Championship, has been acquired by STL CITY SC, with
plans to add him to our MLS first team in 2023. There is an interesting connection with San Diego through our Director of Coaching and interim Next Pro head coach, John Hackworth. Hack's son, Morgan has played for the Loyal the previous two seasons. This would make Josh not only our first pro signing for the CITY MLS Next Pro side, but also our first signed MLS player.
The only official word so far came on Wednesday January 26th when the club announced that Karson Gibbs and Jack Wagoner are "training with our Academy". Both players have roots with St. Louis Scott Gallagher, with Jack competing for their U-19 squad most recently. Karson has also called Ft. Zumwalt South home, where he has been named to the United Soccer Coaches High School All-American list multiple times. Jack Wagoner is committed to joining Indiana University this Fall, meaning he will need to retain his collegiate eligibility in whatever he does in the interim. By placing both players on Amateur designations in MLS Next Pro, they would be covered. This invariably opens the conversation to other local players that CITY had identified with collegiate plans this Fall who are looking for minutes and that CITY may want to consider for Homegrown purposes. This also seems like a way for CITY to bring in local players who may have aged out of the U-17 squad, their top level Academy team, prior to their start.
On that note, This also lends a bit of confirmation that the MLS Next Pro roster will be made up of not only St. Louis CITY SC Academy players, but players from outside of their system locally, in addition to other professionals they will be signing. On both the CITY SC Report podcast and Flyover Footy, we've discussed roster mechanisms such as the Homegrown player in MLS. Essentially, these are players local to the club who have spent time with the club, and can be signed to an MLS contract at a reduced hit to the salary cap. It provides guaranteed money to the player and would not subject them to the SuperDraft or any other club signing them away. Clubs in MLS have historically signed players with at least 1 year in their Academy to Homegrown contracts, as well as players in their "Homegrown territory", which is a geographical range around the club's city that they have first rights to players in. In their announcement of Karson and Jack, it is therefore noteworthy that on Instagram, STL CITY SC posted the following:
As we wait for official news, we are also expecting a group of current U-17 Academy players to play for the MLS Next Pro side as either Amateurs or by signing contracts. If any additional news or rumors come out, I'll be updating this article to reflect the latest, until we receive the official roster and schedule from St. Louis CITY SC or MLS Next Pro themselves.
By Matt Baker