Major League Soccer is launching its own developmental league this year, which they’re calling MLS NEXT Pro. It’ll have 23 teams this year, 22 of which are MLS-affiliated teams, plus an independent team in Rochester, NY. For Loons fans, the important thing is that for the first time, MNUFC will have its very own developmental squad, called - inevitably - MNUFC2.
When this was first announced, the consensus on Twitter was that the team should be called MN2FC, the Toonies (after the Canadian two-dollar coin), or the Doubloons.
Friday, the team held a press conference with MNUFC2 coach Cameron Knowles, who was a video coach with the Loons last year, and prior to that was the head man with Portland Timbers 2 in the USL Championship. Jerry Zgoda sums it up here for the Star Tribune, and Knowles said nothing unexpected.
The gist is that MNUFC2 will be a little bit like every level of minor league baseball, all rolled into one. It’ll be a spot for MNUFC first-team players that aren’t playing much to get a few games - in that way, it’ll be like a Triple-A team. It’ll be a spot for young, developing players to establish themselves as pros, like a Double-A team. And it’ll be a place for really young players - academy age, like late teens - to test themselves at a higher level, like Single-A or rookie ball.
As such, like in any minor league, the priorities for MNUFC2 will be a little bit skewed from what they might be otherwise, because the goal is to develop players while also winning as much as possible. It’ll be the same as it is for Wild fans checking on AHL Iowa’s results, or Twins fans looking at the St. Paul Saints boxscore - less about whether Iowa or St. Paul won, more about whether Marco Rossi scored or whether Jose Miranda got three hits.
Knowles didn’t know where the team will play, when the season will start, or how long the season will be; he said he’d been told that they were looking at a 24-game season beginning in late March, but noted that it was subject to change.
It feels like this is really the most significant re-shaping of the lower-division soccer landscape we’ve seen in the past few years, certainly the biggest change since the NASL (version 2) finally capsized. One of the odd things about the USL over the past few years has been the presence of MLS affiliate teams, whose incentives didn’t always line up with the traditional incentive of “winning soccer games.”
The MLS SuperDraft is today, and the Loons have the 17th pick, which honestly is kind of low to get a real difference-maker. As opposed to past years, though, Minnesota does now have a landing spot for their draft pick. Andy Greder notes that they don’t have other picks, and says that they aren’t planning to make any other deals.
Also, a hat tip to Brian Quarstad for this tidbit, which suggest that the Loons are signing striker Thomas Williamson, who was San Jose’s first-rounder last year. Again, if this move came in the pre-MNUFC2 era, it would make no sense; now it makes a lot of sense.
Perhaps it won’t be long until we can start putting together our own yearly version of Aaron Gleeman’s yearly Top 40 Twins Prospects ranking. For a club that’s always been about the here and now, it’s kind of exciting to think about the future, too.