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USL Academy League Minimum Standards

OBJECTIVE: All full-time USL Academy programs will be required to meet a set of minimum standards across a series of categories listed below as part of an effort to create the optimal player development environments and provide youth prospects at our clubs the best chance of reaching the professional level.

Club Identity

All clubs participating in the USL Academy League must clearly define & state their club identity on the sporting side, and in turn the overall philosophy surrounding their player development strategies. This will be driven by three key components that each club must establish in writing:  

- Established Culture

- Vertical Integration

- Player Development Philosophy


Staffing Plan

Establishing a technical staff for each USL Academy League program is incredibly important, with key roles needing to be filled immediately, and others highly-recommended. In some cases, clubs can utilize existing first team staff members to fill these roles, especially if it helps further drive vertical integration between the senior team & youth levels.



 - Sporting/Technical Director

 - Academy Head Coach 

 - Goalkeeper Coach 

 - Administrator

 - Youth Network Director

 - Player Development Coach 

 - Fitness Coach 

 - Athletic Trainers 

 - Wellness Staff


Developmental Framework

All USL Academy League programs must follow a defined set of rules around how the team is formed, ensuring they meet specific requirements across the below areas:

- Team Formation – Roster Composition & Compliance

- USL Senior Team Alignment

- League-Approved Youth Network

- Individual Development Plans

- Team Activity Plans


Fitness & Wellness

As an extension to the developmental framework, all USL Academy League programs must have specific plans, staff, and/or partnerships in place to address players’ holistic development as an athlete and a young adult. In many cases, these must address:

- Injury Prevention & Rehab Plan

- Peak Performance Plan

- Educational Support Plan

- Character Development Program

- Nutrition Plans

- Mental and Psychosocial Health Program


Facilities & Match Presentation

All USL Academy League programs will have to ensure the facilities that their players & opposing teams utilize for training & official league matches meet a set of standards across the following categories:

- Training Equipment

- Shared Youth and Senior Team Spaces

- Match Day Standards


Technology & Equipment

All USL Academy League programs must have adequate quantity & quality of the appropriate equipment within their training environment. These include but are not limited to: balls, cones, bibs, goals (various sizes), hydration products, uniform attire for staff & players, etc.

Beyond these required items, clubs are also encouraged to identify additional resources, equipment, & technology that can be used to enhance the developmental experience of their players.  These could include but are not limited to: filming all games & training sessions from a high-angle camera for video analysis, biometric testing, heart-rate monitors & GPS trackers, etc.


All USL Academy League programs will be required to have a certain amount of the player’s participation expenses (i.e. coaching, facilities, uniforms, travel, etc.) at least partially subsidized. As clubs assess to what extent they are able to do this, the following must be taken into consideration:

- Participation Fee Limit

- Affiliate Collaboration

- Player Scholarships

- Partners Considerations

- Free-Play Model


For complete details on all of these standards and the overall application process for the USL Academy League, please contact USL Senior Director of Youth Development, Liam O’Connell, at

By mandating minimum standards in the areas above, and by working with each individual club to implement the appropriate strategies & best practices in player development, this new USL Academy model has the opportunity to develop a clear pathway for elite youth prospects to reach the professional level in every community with which we have a USL property. These efforts will be driven by our individual clubs, and aim to provide each of them with a platform that includes:
Focused Youth Development
This model focuses the developmental efforts & resources of our pro clubs towards the elite youth prospects that truly have the potential to go pro. Each player within these environments can also have a more personal, individualized developmental experience within the club.
Cost-Effective Development Structure
By focusing on a more selective group of players & by having less overall teams & individuals to manage within the club, our owners have an opportunity to develop first-team players from within, without having to spend an excessive amount of resources to do so. With travel being one of the greatest costs of these elite youth programs in the US, significant costs are already alleviated by only having one team to be responsible for.
Youth Affiliate Bond
By ensuring our clubs provide real value to their youth counterparts through affiliate programs, and by investing in a more professional development environment, this model can be complimentary (as opposed to competing) to the local/regional youth landscape
Professional Environment & Connectivity
With a smaller group of academy players within this pre-professional environment, there are that many more opportunities for those players to have meaningful touch points with the pro coaches, players & support staff within the club. Those moments can be invaluable to a young player, and can leave a lasting impression in motivating them towards meeting their potential.”
Economies of Scale (Shared Resources)
By focusing these developmental efforts on a more appropriate group of players, there will be numerous opportunities to cut costs by sharing resources already available at the professional level. This could include facilities & training space; access to high-level, expert staff; use of equipment; etc.


League Application
As we move forward toward launching the country’s foremost pre-professional youth league, an application window will soon open for clubs looking to participate in the full year-round league structure. At that time, the USL will release a set of established developmental standards and expectations for interested applicants.A formal selection committee will then make final decisions on entry into the league, based on the level of the current player pool, history of player development success, population density, strength of affiliate programs, and other key factors. In some instances, youth affiliates of USL clubs may also apply to field a team in the USL Academy League, providing all standards are met. For questions & to discuss USL Academy further, please contact USL Sr. Director of Youth Development, Liam O’Connell