Major League Soccer has launched a development program with the aim of increasing inclusion and representation of underrepresented candidates in its pipeline, according to a Feb. 21 announcement.
A December 2022 pilot version of the program — MLS ADVANCE — focused on coaches and front office candidates. So far, about 42% of candidates involved in the program have been hired by MLS clubs and received job offers for sporting positions.
“With our League’s richly diverse player and fan populations, our work at MLS is to continue to ensure that our league and clubs reflect the diversity not only of MLS but our sport around the world,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in the announcement.
The program is an invitation-only professional development and networking series intended for candidates who are ready to join or lead an MLS club — including affiliated youth clubs.
As part of the program, MLS is building a global database of underrepresented candidates and working with consultants domestically and internationally to provide hiring support for clubs with open positions.
In addition, the program hosts networking events for candidates and leaders to meet and build relationships throughout the year, including at the annual MLS Chief Soccer Officers meetings and MLS Board of Governors meetings. These events include opportunities to interact with general managers, owners and chief business officers, according to the organization.
MLS ADVANCE also offers year-round, in-person and virtual professional development programming for candidates. These sessions focus on technical skills, interview preparation, mentorship opportunities and a speaker series with MLS and industry leaders.
For now, the program is focused on sporting positions, but the goal of the initiative is to expand to business roles in the MLS pipeline in coming years.
The program stems from the League’s 2020 commitments to increase inclusion and representation. In 2023, 57% of MLS players are Black or Hispanic, up from 36% in 2007, and 34% of first-team head coaches are Black or Hispanic, up from 7% in 2007.
In 2021, MLS updated its hiring policy to require that the finalist pool for an open sporting position include two or more non-white candidates, one of whom must be Black. During the first year of the updated policy, 51% of MLS sporting roles were filled by underrepresented candidates.
Similar pipeline training programs have been announced by other employers in the past year, including Amazon’s Upskilling 2025 and Chipotle’s emerging leaders program. While some programs are aimed at targeting certain skill sets or leadership development, others are focused on diversity and representation.