ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The owners of Rochester New York Football Club (RNYFC) announced Monday that the team will join the new MLS NEXT Pro league as the franchise seeks a return to play after a four-year hiatus.

Team owners David and Wendy Dworkin, along with English Premier League star and co-owner Jamie Vardy, made the announcement from Watts Conference Center on South Fitzhugh Street in Rochester and were joined by Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, along with other local officials.

“We are thrilled that Rochester NY FC will be the first independent club to join MLS NEXT Pro, said David and Wendy Dworkin. 

“We look forward to showcasing Rochester as a premier professional club and are excited to kick off that process by helping to launch the inaugural season of MLS NEXT Pro in 2022,” said Vardy. “Joining this league, full of opportunity for communities, fans, players and staff – on the pitch and off – is a tremendous point of pride for our club.”

MLS NEXT Pro is described as a “new professional league for the next generation of soccer stars in North America.” According to the league’s Instagram account, MLS NEXT Pro will launch in 2022. MLS itself launched back in 1996.

The new league will work in tandem with the already established MLS league, the most significant professional soccer league in the U.S. The new league will feature independent pro clubs as well as secondary teams already affiliated with MLS franchises. Rochester will become the first of the independent clubs to join the league.

“Rochester has been one of the great soccer cities for over two decades,” said MLS NEXT Pro president Charles Altchek. “The launch of MLS NEXT Pro will further accelerate the sport at all levels.”

The new league will also build on MLS NEXT, which was established in 2020 and focuses on player development with MLS academies and youth academies.

Officials say local soccer fans can expect MLS NEXT Pro matches in Rochester come March 2022. In the short term, RNYFC home games will be played at the MCC campus.

In addition to Rochester NY FC, the following MLS clubs will compete in MLS NEXT Pro’s 2022 season: 

  • Chicago
  • Colorado
  • Columbus
  • Cincinnati
  • Dallas
  • Houston
  • Kansas City
  • Miami
  • Minnesota
  • New England
  • Orlando
  • Philadelphia
  • Portland
  • Salt Lake
  • San Jose
  • Seattle
  • St. Louis
  • Toronto
  • Vancouver

According to MLS, eight additional MLS-affiliated teams will join MLS NEXT Pro in 2023, including: Atlanta United, Austin FC, Charlotte FC, D.C. United, LA Galaxy, LAFC, Nashville SC, and New York Red Bulls. In addition to Rochester NY FC, MLS NEXT Pro will introduce additional independent clubs to the league in 2023 and beyond.

MLS NEXT Pro will kick off its inaugural season in March, just one month after Major League Soccer action starts, and see its season culminate in postseason action in September. 

The full 2022 match schedule and competition details will be announced at a later date. Adidas will serve as MLS NEXT Pro’s first corporate sponsor. 

RNYFC, formerly known as the Rochester Rhinos, announced a rebrand in September as the franchise seeks a return to play after a four-year hiatus.

Vardy, a Premier League Champion, FA Cup winner, and Golden Boot holder currently playing for the Leicester City FC, bought a minority stake in RNY FC earlier this year with plans to soon bring the club out of a four-year hiatus from play.

Vardy is teaming up with Love Productions USA on a new documentary series “Rhino Reboot,” according to Variety. The series will show Vardy’s attempt to “rebuild underdog soccer team, the Rochester Rhinos.”

“The series will offer exclusive access to the team’s management, coaching team, owners, players and staff as Vardy and his colleagues re-boot the Rhinos’ image and, hopefully, their performance as they make a bid for glory in 2022,” K.J. Yossman wrote for Variety.

Love Productions USA has sports storytelling experience, as the team behind the Netflix original Last Chance U, among other notable shows.

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.