CLEVELAND (WJW) — Cleveland Soccer Group announced Monday it’s launching a men’s professional soccer team to join a new MLS league in 2025.
Cleveland Soccer Group will become the third independent club in the new MLS NEXT Pro league, which includes Ohio’s Columbus Crew 2. It was established in June 2021 by Major League Soccer and just completed its inaugural season, according to a news release.
The new team’s name, color and crest will be announced “in the near future,” a spokesperson said Monday. More information can be found later at ClevelandProfessionalSoccer.com.
Michael Murphy, who will be the club’s CEO and is co-founder of Cleveland Soccer Group, said bringing a professional soccer team back to Cleveland will be a boon to economic development, connecting the city to “billions of soccer fans around the world.”
“If we do it right, soccer will transform this region for the better,” he said Monday.
Murphy said Monday the group is also one step closer to establishing a women’s professional soccer team through the National Women’s Soccer League, the top women’s soccer league in the world. The group’s application for Cleveland to be part of the league’s expansion has moved on to the next round of review, he said.
“‘The beautiful game’ will bring Clevelanders together like never before,” Murphy is quoted in the release. “Our group is committed to a long-term vision of supporting professional men’s and women’s teams. Bringing MLS NEXT Pro to Cleveland in 2025 is an incredibly important first step, and we’re especially excited about being able to showcase Cleveland professional soccer to the world as our games will be broadcast globally on Apple TV as part of the long-term broadcast rights deal with MLS.”
What is MLS Next Pro?
The U.S.-Canada league was founded in June 2021 by Major League Soccer. It bridges the pipeline between MLS NEXT, the youth league, and the pro MLS, the top U.S. domestic league. There were 21 clubs competing in its first season, including Columbus Crew 2.
Seven other MLS-affiliated clubs are expected to join the league next year: Atlanta United; Austin FC; Charlotte FC; LA Galaxy; Los Angeles Football Club; Nashville Soccer Club (Huntsville City FC); and New York Red Bulls.
“MLS NEXT Pro was built to include strong independent clubs playing to win championships while serving their communities and entertaining their fans. Cleveland’s Club will be capable of that and more. The pride and passion Clevelanders have for their teams speaks for itself and we look forward to the fans embracing the sport of soccer,” Charles Altchek, president of MLS NEXT Pro is quoted in the release.
‘A more global Cleveland’
Cleveland-born Justin Morrow, a member of the group’s advisory board as well as a former MLS All-Star, U.S. Men’s National Team player and All-American player while attending Cleveland’s Saint Ignatius High School, had a hand in bringing professional soccer to Cleveland and shaping its community mission, according to the release.
“Like most Clevelanders, my affinity for the city runs deep, and I’m committed to partnering with leaders like Michael and [Cleveland Soccer Group co-founder Nolan Gallagher] to have a positive impact,” Morrow is quoted in the release. “Having devoted most of my life to the game, I know that if we bring professional soccer to Cleveland with a ‘community-first’ mindset, it will bring about many positive changes to the region.”
Morrow on Monday said his 12 years playing Major League Soccer took him “far and wide.”
“But I took Cleveland with me everywhere I went,” he said. “We’re gonna build a new pathway for players here in Cleveland so that they don’t have to leave the way I had to, and they can stay right in their hometown and play for their family and friends.”
Mayor Justin Bibb, in pre-recorded remarks, said he hopes the incoming teams will become household names like the Browns, the Cavs and the Guardians.
Newly elected Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne, who had just returned from a conference overseas, said Monday: “The common language, beyond music and food, around the globe is soccer. It’s what people relate to in many nations around the world.
“This is a more global Cleveland, a more global Cuyahoga County, because of soccer,” he said.
Ronayne said he grew up a soccer fan and even took the field as a stopper, he said. Back then, Cleveland’s team was the Cobras, and its games were “a fantastic family outing with big bang for the buck.”
Then came the Cleveland Force, which became the Major Indoor Soccer League’s only profitable team in the mid-1980s, according to a history from Case Western Reserve University. The Cleveland Crunch replaced the Force in that league in 1989, then later joined the National Professional Soccer League. Between 1992 and 2000, the Crunch won three NPSL titles.