NEW YORK – MLS NEXT kicks off this weekend.

Major League Soccer’s new elite youth development platform, in collaboration with the top elite youth academies around the country, begins play in North America.

The is taking over what U.S. Soccer did with the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.

MLS NEXT was unveiled Monday to the elite youth player group, as well as young players aspiring to achieve a spot on one of the platform’s 489 teams across 113 clubs.

The competition will adhere to detailed health and safety protocols. MLS NEXT competition was developed under guidance from federal, state and local government officials, and in keeping with U.S. Soccer’s PLAY ON guidelines. The 2020 competition structure for MLS NEXT prioritizes athlete, staff and community health and safety through regional play and minimized travel.

Featuring six age groups (Under-13, U-14, U-15, U-16, U-17 and U-19), competition will highlight local rivalries and eliminate air travel and overnight trips, with select matches to be played at neutral sites in geographically centered locations. The 2020 competition schedule will be created and announced in four-week phases to adjust to evolving health and safety recommendations. The first week of matches were released Tuesday, and future matches will be posted in the coming days and continue to be posted throughout the fall competition.

“MLS NEXT advances player development in North America, furthering Major League Soccer’s commitment to developing world-class players through an elite competitive pathway,” vice president and technical director of MLS player development Fred Lipka said in a statement. “Major League Soccer is excited to begin MLS NEXT competition which will place player development at the forefront while giving players a safe and healthy environment to advance from academies to MLS first teams.”