Teams from the Eastern and Western Conferences will come together to compete for the inaugural USL Academy Cup
The first-ever USL Academy Eastern Conference Event set the stage for an exciting inaugural National Event in May, thanks to great play on the pitch and development sessions off it. With U17 sides from 12 clubs across the USL Championship, USL League One, and USL League Two competing, the event featured multiple players who have already trained or signed Academy contracts with their senior professional teams.
Scouts from U.S. Soccer, professional clubs and agencies, and multiple NCAA Division I schools attended the event to watch some of the top U17 talent in the country showcase their abilities.
In the Elite Division, Charlotte Independence and Tampa Bay Rowdies both finished with a record of 3-0-0. The Rowdies had to fight for an opening 4-3 win against North Carolina FC before cruising past Chicago FC United and Boston Bolts 4-0 then 6-0 respectively.
None of Charlotte’s wins were blowouts, but the Independence had by far the best defense at the event, only allowing a single goal in three games and none from open play.
Tormenta FC and Louisville City FC highlighted the Premier Division action, including an entertaining match between the pair which ended 3-1 to Tormenta. In the South Georgia side’s other two fixtures, they tied FC Miami City and beat Pittsburgh Riverhounds to stay unbeaten at the event.
Tormenta FC's Terrell Headman makes his move against Louisville. Photo by Cameron Koubek
Aside from the Tormenta defeat, Louisville was outstanding. The team’s attack poured in 16 goals in three games, more than any other side at the showcase.
Off the pitch, players, coaches, and parents had the opportunity to further their knowledge of the path to professional soccer through the Youth Development Workshop, Pro Pathway Panel, and two free professional preseason matches.
Tom Harris of North Carolina FC presented a case study on youth development. Photo by Cameron Koubek
At the Youth Development Workshop, coaches and academy directors from all 12 clubs came together to discuss best practices and unique challenges in creating youth to pro pathways. USL Sr. Director of Youth Development Liam O’Connell spoke on the structure and vision of USL Academy before introducing Tom Harris from North Carolina FC’s academy, who presented a case study on the club’s development system, ideal player profile, and more.
U.S. Soccer scouts took part in the breakout sessions that followed the presentation, helping drive collaboration and understanding between USL Academy clubs and the U.S. Youth National Team scouting process.
On Saturday night, players, coaches, and families from many clubs made the trip to historic Al Lang Stadium in downtown St. Petersburg to watch two professional preseason matches. Attendees saw Inter Miami’s first-ever public match as the new MLS side faced Philadelphia Union, followed by the Championship’s Tampa Bay Rowdies against Thierry Henry’s Montreal Impact.
USL Academy players were recognized on the field at halftime of the latter match, an amazing experience for the young players and an example of the connection between youth and professional soccer at USL Academy events.
The Premier Sports Campus stadium field played host to the Pro Pathway Panel on Sunday, featuring coaches and academy directors with years of experience in youth development and professional soccer.
North Carolina FC’s John Bradford, Louisville City FC’s Mario Sanchez, Tormenta FC’s Ian Cameron, and Tampa Bay United Rowdies’ Blake Wagner spoke on the panel, many of whom have roles at all three of their club’s professional, U23, and youth levels.
The panelists spoke of the potential obstacles in building a professional soccer career, but highlighted that more opportunities exist to pursue the sport than ever before in the United States thanks to increased structure created by programs like USL Academy.
Charlotte Independence players on the pitch at Al Lang after being recognized at halftime of a professional preseason game. Photo by Cameron Koubek
With the Eastern Conference Event in the books, attention turns to the USL Academy National Event in May. The event will combine clubs from last weekend’s showcase with the teams from the Western Conference Event in San Antonio in 2019, as well as some teams who did not compete in regional play.
The inclusion of a U13 age group at the event will help younger players access a higher level of competition, as the first calendar year of USL Academy events will draw to a close at the Tournament Sportsplex of Tampa Bay on May 25.
To stay up to date with all things USL Academy ahead of the National Event, visit usl-academy.com or search #USLAcademy on social media.