TAMPA, Fla. – This season a record number of USL Academy players are college-bound after a summer of competition across the USL Academy league.
While the dream to play professional soccer is the goal for many young soccer players, the pathway to college scholarships and competitive year-round play has provided USL Academy players with another route to a professional future. Over 300 players from the girls’ and boys’ divisions will compete for NCAA Division I programs, with 300 more represented at college programs within other divisions.
New Mexico United Academy product Alex Waggoner celebrating in a USL Championship game against Monterey Bay F.C.
Clubs like New Mexico United have been a leader in this space, investing time into supporting player development and offering First Team minutes for players as USL Academy signings. Players like Alex Waggoner have already begun to make a name for themselves in the college ranks, with Waggoner currently leading the University of Michigan with two goals in five appearances as a freshman. Another USL Academy alum also began his career with the Wolverines this fall, with Rio Grande Valley FC product Duilio Herrera having notched his first collegiate assist against Loyola Marymount University.
Other notable former USL Academy signings currently starring in the college ranks include Kenan Hot, who competed for Hartford Athletic before beginning his collegiate career at Duke University. Hot is currently ranked the No. 36 prospect in TopDrawerSoccer.com’s national rankings after being named to the ACC All-Freshman Team last fall. Joining Hot in the TDS Top 50 is Indy Eleven Academy forward Palmer Ault, who not only won the 2021 USL Academy title with the Boys in Blue but also joined the USL League Two Top 50 Prospects list during the 2023 season. He also comes in as the No. 42 prospect in the country as a sophomore at Butler University.
For the first time, the USL Academy league expanded with a pilot season for the girls’ divisions that has seen female athletes successfully transition to the college game this year. AC Connecticut’s Caroline Dickson made her way to the University of Massachusetts where she has appeared in every game so far as a freshman with the Minutewomen. Pittsburgh Riverhounds Academy product Piper Coffield scored her first collegiate goal against Louisville and has contributed valuable minutes on the pitch as a freshman for the University of Indiana Hoosiers. Likewise, former North Carolina Courage duo Phoebe Goldthwaite and Kiera Clemens are in the middle of their freshman seasons where they will be fighting to make an impact on a competitive Duke University roster.
Developing players to compete in college is a key part of the USL Academy pathway. All USL Academy League clubs must meet a minimum set of standards designed to create optimal long-term player development environments directly connected to USL first teams. As part of those standards, players within these programs must have access to resources that can help them in their academic endeavors, whether the player is in high school or in college.
Phoebe Goldthwaite on the field for NC Courage vs. NC Fusion in the USL Academy Cup Final
The long-term goal is to provide local youth products with the resources and platform to play professionally, whether signing directly with their club from the Academy, or competing collegiately to further their development on and off the field.
Many of these players will continue to compete in Academy competitions in 2023 and 2024, including the Academy League and the annual Academy Cup, which will take place next year. In the meantime, the USL Academy will be supporting and highlighting the success of Academy players on college rosters.
Collegiate and professional scouts can register for the Academy League Finals at the SportsPlex of Tampa Bay this December here.