Rochester NY FC, which includes Leicester City's Jamie Vardy in its ownership group, will be one of 21 teams that will compete in the new Major League Soccer developmental league that will start play in 2022, MLS announced Monday.
The league, MLS NEXT Pro, will include 20 teams affiliated with MLS clubs in addition to Rochester NY, which rebranded from from the Rochester Rhinos in September.
For Vardy, the opportunity Rochester had to be involved in a league with a development focus was a significant draw.
"I think that the massive thing is obviously the development side. that's one thing we want to do," Vardy told ESPN. "We've been looking at MLS NEXT [MLS's affiliated youth league] players and we think there is quite a few of them that got potential to come in and play for us straightaway in 2022. So to go into the MLS NEXT Pro league, it was it was kind of a no brainer."
Rochester previously participated in the USL Championship, before going on hiatus in 2017. The club is the only non-MLS team to win the U.S. Open Cup since MLS launched in 1996 and will resume participating in the competition.
Charles Altchek, the former senior vice president of league growth and operations for MLS, has been appointed the president of MLS NEXT Pro, while former Toronto FC general manager Ali Curtis will be the senior vice president of competition and operations.
"Charles and Ali have the experience, enthusiasm and values to lead the growth and development of MLS NEXT Pro," MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. "They will partner with MLS-affiliated and independent teams to bring professional soccer to more communities throughout North America."
Nine MLS clubs will not be represented in MLS NEXT Pro during its debut season in 2022: Atlanta United FC, Austin FC, Charlotte FC, DC United, LAFC, LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, CF Montreal and Nashville SC. Of that group, all but Montreal are will field a team in the league in 2023 and beyond, with the possibility of additional independent clubs.
While the MLS clubs will primarily use the league to get minutes for its younger players, Rochester NY won't solely rely on youth, Vardy said.
"With us being independent, I think it'll probably be a bit different for us," Vardy said. "We'll be able to scope every market from the youngsters up. If they're good enough to play, then they're good enough to play. It doesn't matter. Age is just a number so we're making sure we put the best quality so that we can who can compete."
Rochester has yet to announce a head coach but that is expected to come in the coming days, with players to follow. The club has a partnership with Empire United Youth Academy, which is expected to be an immediate source for player acquisition.
The league will begin play in March, a month after the 2022 MLS season begins, and conclude in September.