The 2023 USL Academy Cup kicks off on Friday with more than 100 teams competing across the boys and girls divisions at the Sportsplex of Tampa Bay.
For every player on hand, the week is an opportunity to not only achieve success as part of their squads, but also to grab the attention of the collected scouts from professional clubs and colleges that will be on hand looking for the next potential addition to their roster in the future.
Over its first three editions, there have already been some notable players come through, including those now competing in Europe, within the United States Youth National Team system, and in the professional ranks.
Here are seven players who previously used the Academy Cup as a launchpad to future success.
Louisville City FC's Joshua Wynder impressed at the 2020 USL Academy Cup and has since gone on to major success at the USL Championship and U.S. youth national team levels. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
Louisville City FC’s Academy was in its infancy as it arrived at the USL Academy Cup three years ago, but the potential shown by Joshua Wynder – at that point 14 years old while playing in the U-17 Division – was clear. The center back, who was nominated as a finalist for the U.S. Soccer Young Male Player of the Year and USL Championship Young Player of the Year in 2022, is now considered one of the top prospects in the country with a Championship record-setting transfer beckoning soon.
The left back began his pathway to becoming a future First Round selection in the MLS SuperDraft at the USL Academy Cup in 2019 when he stood out for the Independence during the event. The following year he became a USL Academy signing before his collegiate career saw him compete for both UNC Greensboro and then Clemson University before being selected with the No. 11 pick by Nashville SC at last December’s SuperDraft.
Joshua Wynder wasn’t the only player from LouCity’s Academy to catch the eye at the 2019 Academy Cup, with midfielder Carlos Moguel Jr. also drawing positive reviews for his performances. Since then, Moguel has signed professionally with LouCity, recently signing a new contract with the club. This past season he broke through with 16 appearances across the Championship’s regular season and playoffs and scored the decisive penalty kick in the club’s Eastern Conference Semifinal victory against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.
Former Orange County SC defender Kobi Henry in action at the 2021 USL Academy Cup. By the end of the year, he had helped OCSC win the USL Championship, and is now at Ligue 1's Stade de Reims in France.
When the 2021 USL Academy Cup kicked off, Kobi Henry had made four appearances in the USL Championship during the shortened 2020 campaign but had yet to make a league appearance for the side that season. After his stellar performances at the event, he found himself elevated into a starting role and by the end of the season was both part of the United States U-20 Men’s National Team at the Revelations Cup and a 2021 USL Championship title-winner. That December, he was one of the first two USL Championship players in league history to be called into the senior United States Men’s National Team squad, and last summer was transferred to French Ligue 1 club Stade de Reims for a Championship record fee.
Playing for Indy’s U-17 team at the 2021 USL Academy Cup, Sanchez helped lead the Boys in Blue to the Final of the bracket after a perfect group stage that saw him record one goal and one assist. Later in the year, the 16-year-old was one of the star performers as Indy claimed the inaugural Academy League Playoffs at Al Lang Stadium, and more recently he made his USL Championship debut late in the 2022 season. This year there’s the potential for more as Sanchez continues his progression as a top central midfield prospect.
As a 15-year-old at the 2021 USL Academy Cup, Johnson played all four games for Tampa Bay United’s U-17 side as it claimed victory against Indy Eleven in the bracket Final, and has quickly gone on to make a name for himself competing for both United and the USL Championship’s Tampa Bay Rowdies. Johnson made his Rowdies debut last year in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and then made three appearances in the Championship late in the season. After helping Tampa Bay United claim the 2022 USL Academy League Playoffs title last November while being named to the All-Tournament Team in the process, the University of North Carolina commit has an intriguing year ahead of him.
Fischer made his senior debut in USL League One for North Carolina FC against the Richmond Kickers in May, 2021 shortly before arriving at the 2021 USL Academy Cup, where he played in all four games for the side in the U-17 Division. After his return, Fischer returned to League One action and after accumulating 16 appearances in 2021 season the club signed him to a professional contract ahead of the 2022 campaign. The 18-year-old is now headed to Minnesota United FC’s organization after an offseason transfer to MNUFC2 having already made 30 senior appearances in the professional ranks.