Jaden Servania (left) was the first USL Academy signing in Birmingham Legion FC history. | Photo courtesy Legion FC
Now more than ever, independent USL clubs in the Championship and League One are embracing the use of the USL Academy contract as a method for enhancing development and creating a well-defined youth to professional pathway.
At the start of the 2020 season, there were 47 players signed to Academy contracts with 17 different independent clubs across the USL’s two professional divisions, and they’ll compete against dozens more young academy products on the rosters of MLS owned-and-operated sides.
Already, some are making their presence felt in the Champonship's resumption. From Birmingham Legion FC's Jaden Servania - who in February was the club's first USL Academy signing and this month started Legion FC's first game of the season - to others like Sacramento Republic FC's Rafael Jauregui, who became the youngest player to compete for the club in an official league game last Sunday against Reno 1868 FC, names you should know for the future are taking the field in the USL.
The structure of USL Academy contracts allows these talented players to gain experience competing day in, day out at the professional level, without sacrificing their future collegiate eligibility.
Many of these signings were made possible by partnerships being built between USL Academy programs and local youth clubs, allowing the best players in each market to move seamlessly between their youth club and their local professional USL environment.
Since the start of April, 17 players have inked Academy deals with professional USL clubs. The youngest to do so is 14-year-old Ansu Kanneh, a forward who joined Phoenix Rising FC’s first team. The defending USL Championship regular season winners also added goalkeeper Brandon Keniston and 17-year-old Alexander Krzykos on Academy contracts.
North Carolina FC and Indy Eleven made three Academy signings a piece. Midfielder Shane De Leon, goalkeeper Nicholas Holliday and defender Collin McCamy became the latest in a long line of NCFC youth prospects to join the first team. Indy signed defender Matthew Seranou, goalkeeper Alex Svetanoff and forward Matthew Roou.
Charlotte Independence excelled at the USL Academy Eastern Conference Regional Event in February, and since then has given multiple young players the chance to compete with the club’s senior team. The most recent pair, 17-year-old goalkeeper Lucas Hatsios and defender Dylan Mitchinier, could very well see significant minutes for the Queen City side this season.
Four more Championship clubs have made one Academy signing each over the last three months: In addition to Jaurgegui, Sacramento Republic FC added Abraham Lincon as the seventh Academy player on San Antonio FC’s senior roster and Birmingham Legion FC inked 17-year-old Braxton Taghvai-Najib. The nascent Louisville City FC Academy turned heads with the signing of Damir Beganovic, the third academy player to join the senior team.
Finally, two League One clubs bolstered their ranks with an Academy signing just before the season kicked off last week. Midfielder Conor Dowler rejoined Greenville Triumph for his second straight year with the club on an Academy contract, while 17-year-old defender Derrick Silva signed with FC Tucson.
The table below lists each of the 47 players currently signed to Academy contracts with independent USL Championship and League One clubs:
|Player Name||USL Club|
|Rafael Guerrero||FC Tucson|
|Derrick Silva||FC Tucson|
|Conor Dowler||Greenville Triumph SC|
|Tristan DeLoach||South Georgia Tormenta FC|
|Grant Hampton||South Georgia Tormenta FC|
|Stephen O'Hearn||South Georgia Tormenta FC|
|Jaden Servania||Birmingham Legion FC|
|Braxton Taghvai-Najib||Birmingham Legion FC|
|James Cox||Charleston Battery|
|Owen Barber||Charlotte Independence|
|Lucas Hatsios||Charlotte Independence|
|Dylan Mitchinier||Charlotte Independence|
|Joseph Skinner||Charlotte Independence|
|Andrew Cordes||Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC|
|Logan Dorsey||Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC|
|Alejandro Padilla||Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC|
|Donovan Roux||Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC|
|Anthony Winters||FC Tulsa|
|Matthew Roou||Indy Eleven|
|Matthew Senanou||Indy Eleven|
|Alex Svetanoff||Indy Eleven|
|Damir Beganovic||Louisville City FC|
|Muamer Ugarak||Louisville City FC|
|Elijah Wynder||Louisville City FC|
|Robert Alphin||North Carolina FC|
|Shane De Leon||North Carolina FC|
|Luke Hille||North Carolina FC|
|Nicholas Holliday||North Carolina FC|
|Collin McCamy||North Carolina FC|
|Landon Carter||Phoenix Rising FC|
|Ansu Kanneh||Phoenix Rising FC|
|Brandon Keniston||Phoenix Rising FC|
|Alexander Krzykos||Phoenix Rising FC|
|Eric De La Cerda||Reno 1868 FC|
|Diego Rocha||RGV FC Toros|
|Julian Chavez||Sacramento Republic FC|
|Rafael Jauregui||Sacramento Republic FC|
|Diego Ramos||Sacramento Republic FC|
|Aris Yang||Sacramento Republic FC|
|Kyle Genenbacher||Saint Louis FC|
|Fabrizio Bernal||San Antonio FC|
|Jude Bosshardt||San Antonio FC|
|Jacob Castro||San Antonio FC|
|Abraham Lincon||San Antonio FC|
|Sebastian Mercado||San Antonio FC|
|Rocky Perez||San Antonio FC|
|Joshua Ramsey||San Antonio FC|