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The Colorado Rapids launched a new extension of the club Monday, which will provide a pathway from the club’s academy system to the first team.
Rapids 2 will be one of 21 teams to join the inaugural MLS Next Pro league, a new professional lower division that will begin play in spring 2022. Eight more teams from around MLS will join in 2023, with additional independent clubs to compete in the future.
“We’re excited to take part in MLS NEXT Pro as one of the league’s inaugural teams,” Rapids general manager Pádraig Smith said in a club statement. “Rapids 2 will serve as a fundamental piece of our player development pathway by not only providing a competitive, professional environment for young talent to develop, but also giving us the ability to extend this opportunity to a broader range of players in our youth system during a critical phase in their development.”
As a result of the new league, the club formally announced an end to its affiliation with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC of the USL Championship. The Rapids used the affiliation to their advantage in 2021, as seven players earned key minutes on loan with the Switchbacks, who made the first round of the USL Championship playoffs. Among them was 2021 MLS SuperDraft pick Philip Mayaka, who was taken third overall from Clemson.
Brian Crookham, previously the Switchbacks general manager, will now lead the Rapids 2 front office.
“We’re grateful to the entire Switchbacks FC organization for being a wonderful partner over the past three seasons and for the key role it has played in the development of many of our young players,” Smith said. “We look forward to seeing the club continue the great work they’re doing both on the pitch and in growing the sport in Colorado.”
MLS NEXT Pro falls under the third division sanctioning of American professional soccer, below the Switchbacks of the USL Championship, and on the same tier as Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC, who are expected to make their USL League One debut in 2022. This will make four professional clubs in Colorado.
The league format will include up to 24 games per club, with eight teams making the playoffs.
Participation in the league extends to Academy players on amateur contracts, players signed directly to Rapids 2 contracts and first team players on loan.
The Rapids will announce their full staff and other key decisions such as a venue and competition schedule at a later date.