TAMPA, Fla. – The fourth edition of the annual USL Academy Cup, one of the largest soccer competitions in the country, is set to begin on March 14 at the Tournament Sportsplex of Tampa Bay.
Over 140 teams will be competing in the tournament with six age groups divided into 18 divisions based on previous record and region, encouraging sides to play against new competition not previously seen in the regional USL Academy League format. Teams will compete in a round-robin group stage where they will play against every other team in their group. After three days of group play, the top teams from each group will play the other in their division for the chance to be crowned champions.
Championship matches will take place on Sunday, March 17 with medals given to the winners and runners-up. Individual awards for Golden Glove, Golden Boot, Golden Ball, and Coach of the Tournament will be provided for each of the Elite divisions.
“We are excited to welcome the top teams from across the country to the USL Academy Cup,” said USL Technical Director Liam O’Connell. “This event is not only a chance for clubs to compete against different teams before the start of the USL Academy League season, but also serves as a great opportunity for the players to showcase their abilities to a network of scouts and professional clubs that will be in attendance.”
In an effort to showcase and accelerate the development of each club’s highest-potential young players, the USL Academy Cup requires teams at certain age groups to meet a set of specific roster rules. Unique to the rest of the American youth soccer landscape, this tournament encourages the promotion of top young talents with a minimum number of players at the 2005 and 2009 age groups playing up 1-2+ years with their older peers. This initiative is designed to introduce these high-potential players to their club’s senior team pathways and assess which of those individuals may be ready to progress beyond their age group on a more consistent basis following the tournament. This initiative has already paid dividends for players like Diego Sanchez, who just signed his first professional deal after featuring for Indy Eleven’s USL Academy League and Academy Cup teams since he was a U15 player.
Last year’s Academy Cup winners Indy Eleven will look to defend their titles in both the U19 and U15 Boys Elite divisions, while Chattanooga Red Wolves SC will look to do the same in the U15 Girls Elite division.
There will be a number of special events taking place throughout the tournament, including a coaching education session, panels discussing the college recruitment process and student-athlete experience, and watch parties for the English Premier League games airing throughout the weekend. Teams will also have the opportunity to attend and be recognized at the Tampa Bay Rowdies home opener against San Antonio FC on Saturday, March 16 at 7:30 p.m. ET.