What is the MLS NEXT Development Grant Program?

Last Tuesday February 6th 2024, MLS and MLS NEXT have unveiled the MLS NEXT Development Grant program, a groundbreaking initiative aimed at acknowledging the invaluable contributions of MLS NEXT Elite Academies (non-MLS academy programs) to the professional player pathway. This initiative seeks to reinvest in the youth development ecosystem, recognizing the pivotal role these academies play in nurturing talent from a grassroots level.

The program entails providing compensation to MLS NEXT Elite Academies for eligible players who progress through the professional player pathway, moving from MLS NEXT Elite Academy to MLS club academy, and eventually to an MLS first team as a Homegrown player.

By implementing the Development Grant program, MLS aims to create additional opportunities for players across the United States and Canada to access the highest level of player development. Moreover, it acknowledges and appreciates the significant impact that clubs make during the early stages of an athlete’s development.

Eligibility for the program is contingent upon several criteria. Clubs must be actively participating in MLS NEXT and have registered the player in MLS NEXT immediately before the player transitions to an MLS academy, MLS NEXT Pro team, or MLS first team. Additionally, clubs must comply with all MLS NEXT regulations and policies when a player moves to and registers with an MLS academy.

The Development Grant program extends to both current players and those who were previously registered to an MLS NEXT Elite Academy since the commencement of the 2020-21 MLS NEXT season. However, if a player has been associated with multiple MLS NEXT Elite Academies, only the immediate former academy will be eligible for the Development Grant.

Development Grant funds are disbursed based on specific milestones achieved by eligible players:

  1. Professional Contract Signing:
    • MLS NEXT Elite Academies are eligible for a one-time payment if a player joins an MLS academy directly from an Elite Academy and subsequently signs as a Homegrown with the same MLS club.
    • Additional eligibility considerations apply if a player signs an MLS NEXT Pro contract before signing an MLS contract.
  2. MLS Appearances:
    • MLS NEXT Elite Academies receive additional Development Grant funds when a player reaches certain milestones in MLS regular season and postseason appearances.
  3. Transfer to a Non-MLS Club (Outside of US & Canada):
    • In the event of a player’s transfer for a fee to a non-MLS club outside of the United States and Canada, the immediate former MLS NEXT Elite Academy will receive a percentage of the solidarity payment.

Furthermore, the Development Grant will retroactively apply to players registered in MLS NEXT since the inception of the 2020-21 MLS NEXT season. Check the list of players HERE.

In summary, the MLS NEXT Development Grant program represents a significant stride towards recognizing and supporting youth soccer development in North America. By incentivizing and rewarding the efforts of MLS NEXT Elite Academies, MLS aims to foster a robust ecosystem that nurtures talent and propels players towards professional success.

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