With the launch of USL Academy, United Soccer League now has an elite youth platform to offer to its clubs in the Championship, League One and League Two.
As such, these clubs can now develop a more clearly defined path for top youth prospects in their area to reach the professional level and sign directly with their senior team while improving local quality and community.
The USL Academy brand is composed of four key components: Standards, USL Academy Contracts, USL Academy Cup and USL Academy League.
The purpose of the USL Academy Standards is to create optimal player development environments and provide local youth prospects the best chance of reaching the professional level, all league-approved USL Academy programs will be required to meet a set of minimum standards across a series of categories listed out in this document. By developing these standards, USLHQ aims to pursue the following key goals:
Build Pathways: Establish as many youth to pro player development pathways as possible, linking elite youth organizations with USL Senior Teams in Championship, League One, & League Two.
Produce Players: Increase the number & quality of locally produced talents for USL Senior Teams, while striving to develop world-class players able to compete at the highest level.
Drive Return on Investment: Provide USL ownership groups an efficient player development model for their Senior Teams, while increasing the likelihood of a return on that investment.
Improve Quality: Improve the standard of long-term player development programs across the United States, positively impacting every aspect of those environments & pathways.
In the past, many young American players have been ready to test themselves by competing against professionals but were limited in their ability to do so for fear of sacrificing their collegiate eligibility. The structure of USL Academy contracts directly addresses this issue.
USL Academy contracts allow Academy products at USL clubs to sign, train and compete in matches with professional senior teams without affecting their eligibility to play college soccer. With players like Damon Rouse choosing to sign Academy contracts, this mechanism helps young players accelerate their development by challenging them and allowing them to gain experience playing with and against professionals at a young age. They also allow senior team staff to evaluate the top talent in their academies on a more frequent basis and in a professional environment, which adds another step in the pathway to professional soccer.
Former USL Academy Contract signing, now pro, Jose Gallegos of San Antonio FC
Currently, there are over 75 players signed to USL Academy contracts with independent clubs in the Championship and League One, showing the commitment of USL teams to developing young talent as well as the benefits of the rapidly-increasing number of clubs providing pathways to professional soccer in their local markets.
The annual USL Academy Cup, presented by PUMA, is an elite tournament that brings teams to Tampa, Fla. from across the country to compete against unique teams they would not normally play. USL Academy Cup emphasizes the importance of on the field and off the field development with multiple panels throughout the weekend, scouts watching in-person and virtually, additional activations in the Player Village, and development opportunities for coaches and referees.
The inaugural national USL Academy Cup, presented by PUMA, took place in May 2021, with 76 teams representing clubs from all levels of American soccer across the United States. There were three different age groups, U13 Boys and U17 Boys and Girls, that focused on the developmental game for the athletes.
Building on that success, the 2022 USL Academy Cup added a U15 Boys group and swapped the U17 groups for U19 groups, allowing all players who compete in USL Academy League an opportunity to play at USL Academy Cup. Check out the top performers from the 2022 event here.
USL Academy Cup also promotes development off the field for not only players, but coaches, staff members, and referees. USL hosts myriad workshops and panels that emphasize player development, technical practices, educational seminars, and referee programming.
USL Academy works diligently with each USL club to accelerate its strategic plans in the youth development space, with the ultimate goal of creating academies across all USL clubs. The USL Academy League provides elite youth talent from across the USL landscape an additional opportunity to compete at a high level.
The USL Academy League establishes a high-level pre-professional training environment, with a direct connection to the local USL senior team. It provides meaningful games to aid in those players’ development and to provide all clubs an opportunity to compete amongst each other in regionalized competition.
USL Academy League displays strong competition and growth for academy teams across the country through competitive play and development attributions. The 2022 Academy League consists of (3) 3-month cycles and the USL Academy League Finals in November, together mirroring the length of the professional season to allow for young talents to train and play at the highest level.