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USL Academy Player Development Model

How Will the Academy Model be Structured?


Ahead of the 2020/21 youth soccer cycle, USL has unveiled a model for future USL Academies and their participation in the USL Academy League, a first-of-its-kind competition designed to create the clearest path possible to professional soccer.


Program Structure

Each USL club will look to field one elite youth team, geared primarily towards top local U15-U19 players. This cost-effective development model provides our clubs the opportunity to share resources of the overall club, while building a direct link to the USL senior team.


Youth Development Initiatives

By moving forward with this model for future USL Academies, we feel our clubs can deliver a new player development platform that collectively bridges the gap between our pro clubs & their local youth soccer community.


Academy Roster Rules

USL will mandate a minimum and maximum number of players rostered at each age, to ensure focus remains on long-term development over short-term results in youth competitions (18-23 total full time players, with option for part time players in rotation)


Youth Network

USL clubs will be required to have a youth network supporting their USL Academy team. In an effort to standardize those youth programs & to ensure mutually-beneficial partnerships are put in place with local clubs, the USL League Office has developed a set of best practices & template agreements for these programs to follow.


Player Development Standards

USL will be implementing a set of minimum standards with which our clubs must meet in order to field a USL Academy team. These will focus on areas that directly impact the development of the club’s pre-professional youth players, including but not limited to: staffing requirements; use of technology & analytics; integration of sport science, nutrition & peak performance drivers; access to appropriate training facilities; use of individual development plans; etc.

Why was the Academy Model Created?

Strategic Goal
This new model for future USL Academy programs will provide USL clubs a progressive model to develop local players for the senior team, at a fraction of the cost of traditional pre-professional academies

We feel confident that this new 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 a few key strategies tied to this model:
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)
Again, 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