MLS NEXT Pro opening weekend: Everything you need to know

It's the dawn of a new era for youth development in MLS, with the inaugural season of MLS NEXT Pro kicking off this weekend with a packed slate of nine matches.

It will be the first glimpse of the brand new platform for young up-and-coming players to showcase their talent, with one independent, RNY FC, and 20 MLS clubs as part of this season's founding class. Here's everything you need to know as the action gets underway.

Grand opening

The debut fixture is lining up to be a spectacle, with a sellout crowd expected for the historic first-ever match between St Louis CITY2 and Rochester New York FC at Hermann Stadium in St. Louis tonight at 8 p.m. ET. It will be a seminal moment for St. Louis CITY SC ahead of the club's 2023 expansion season in MLS, while RNY FC have the distinction of being the league's first independent club.

Friday’s match will be the first MLS NEXT Pro Game of the Week with an enhanced broadcast featuring ESPN commentator Taylor Twellman, Steve Cangialosi, Poppy Miller and's Susannah Collins, who also co-hosts MLS's The Call Up. That will set the stage for eight other matches that will run through the rest of the weekend, starting with another Game of the Week enhanced production on Saturday with Houston Dynamo 2 hosting Whitecaps FC 2 at 9 p.m. ET.

All 21 MLS NEXT Pro clubs will have at least one home Game of the Week this season.

MLS NEXT Pro opening weekend schedule

How to watch and stream

Fans can watch every game of the MLS NEXT Pro inaugural season via live stream on MLS NEXT Pro's official website.

MLS NEXT Pro has teamed up with automated camera technology provider Spiideo to deliver livestreams of all non-game of the week MLS NEXT Pro matches, ensuring every match this season will be available for viewing.

How does it work?

Each MLS NEXT Pro team will play a schedule of 24 regular-season games, 12 home and 12 away, across 26 weeks. It will all culminate on September 18 with MLS NEXT Pro Decision Day.

The clubs have been divided by region in an Eastern Conference and Western Conference, comprised of two divisions in each, and will compete for eight spots in the MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs (one division winner and a total of four from each conference).

The MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs will be a single-elimination format, with the higher-seeded team hosting and follow a straight bracket format through the MLS NEXT Pro Final. Seeding and/or hosting is decided by the highest regular-season points total.

The were will be no draws as per the league's 2022 Competition Guidelines, matches that end on level terms will be decided by penalty-kick shootouts. Clubs will break the deadlock using a traditional shootout format from the penalty mark.

Clubs can have up to 35 players on their MLS NEXT Pro roster. A full breakdown of the roster guidelines for MLS NEXT Pro can be found here.