The 2023 USL Academy League Playoffs kick off on Thursday morning at the SportsPlex of Tampa Bay, bringing the field of 16 qualifiers to the playoff division and numerous other clubs from around the USL Academy ecosystem to Florida for the third edition of the season-ending tournament and showcase.
With more than 50 players who have already made their senior debuts for their respective clubs in the USL Championship, League One and League Two set to be in action, this year’s Academy Playoffs is expected to be the strongest and most competitive tournament yet.
Here’s what you need to know before the action kicks off.
This year, the USL Academy League Playoffs have moved to a single-elimination bracket format. This not only ensures the players experience the same postseason format they’ll face at the next stage in their playing careers but will also double the size of the field from eight to 16 teams with a chance to take home the title.
Six of the teams that contested the 2022 USL Academy League Playoffs are back in the field this year, with defending title holders Tampa Bay United and 2021 champion Indy Eleven leading the way. They’re joined by New Mexico United, San Antonio FC, AC Connecticut and North Carolina FC.
That means, however, that we have 10 new teams that will get their chance at glory. Among those, El Paso Locomotive FC and Orange County SC should be two to keep an eye on, while Miami FC, the Charlotte Independence and Central Valley Fuego FC will also be represented from the Championship and League One.
From League Two, five new clubs will get their first chance to claim the title – AHFC Royals, East Atlanta Dutch Lions, FC Copa Academy, Ironbound SC, and Utah Red Wolves.
The first two editions of the USL Academy League Playoffs have featured players who were on professional contracts – and those like New Mexico United’s Cristian Nava and Indy Eleven’s Diego Sanchez who are now signed to deals with their hometown clubs. This year’s edition will mirror that, and feature players who could be among the next to make the jump to the professional ranks in the coming years.
Here are 11 players you should be keeping an eye on at this year’s event. All of them will be hoping to find a similar trajectory to Orange County SC standout Bryce Jamison, who was an All-Tournament selection last year in the Showcase Division before becoming part of the United States U-17 Men’s National Team Squad for the FIFA Men’s U-17 World Cup this past month.