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USL Academy Standards

To create optimal player development environments and provide local youth prospects the best chance of reaching the professional level, all league-approved USL Academy programs are required to meet a set of minimum standards across a series of categories listed below.

Club Identity

All clubs participating in USL Academy must clearly define and state their club identity on the sporting side and overall philosophy surrounding their player development strategies. This are driven by three key components that each club must establish in writing: 


 Established Culture

 Vertical Integration 

 Player Development Philosophy

Holistic Plan 

 Model of Play

 Long-Term Strategic Plan


Staffing Plan

Establishing a technical staff for each USL Academy program is incredibly important, with key roles needing to be filled immediately, and others highly-recommended. In some cases, clubs can utilize existing senior team staff members to fill these roles, especially if it helps further drive vertical integration between the senior team and youth levels.


Technical staff

Support staff


Staff Registration

Sporting/Technical Director

Academy Head Coach

Goalkeeper Coach

Athletic Trainers

Team Administrator


Sporting/Technical Director as a Dedicated Role

Player Development Coach (Assistant Coach)

Operations Administrator

Fitness Staff

Youth Soccer Director

Wellness Staff

Communications Coordinator


Pathway & Developmental Framework

All USL Academy programs must follow a defined set of rules around how the professional pathway is constructed for proper development, ensuring they meet specific requirements across the below areas:


 USL Senior Team Alignment

 Youth Network 

 Activity Plan 

 Individual Development Plans (IDP)


Team Formation & Roster Management

All USL Academy programs must follow a defined set of rules around how the team is formed, ensuring they meet specific requirements across the below areas: 


 Team Formation – Roster Compliance

 USL Academy LeagueRoster Rules 

 USL Academy Cup Roster Rules 


Fitness (Sports Science) & Wellness Strategies

USL Academy clubs must create strategic plans that focus on various aspects of their players' lives, from injury prevention to DEI initiatives. 



Injury Prevention/Rehab Plan

Peak Performance Plan

Educational Support Plan

Pro Team Integration

Diversity, Equality, & Inclusion Initiatives

SafeSport Compliance

Character Development Program

Nutrition Plan

Mental and Psychological Health Program


Facilities & Game Day Protocol

All USL Academy programs must ensure the facilities that their players and opposing teams utilize for training & official league matches meet a set of standards across the following categories:


Training Environment

Game Day Standards


Training Pitch

Preferred Visiting Team Hotel(s)

USL Hotel Booking Partner

Game Day Equipment

Game Day Facility



Training Pitch Contingency

Gym Space

Shared Youth/Pro Space(s)

Treatment Space

Classroom Space

Stadium Experience

Away Games Travel

Game Day Photography

Sr. Team Game Day Access


Technology & Equipment

All USL Academy programs must have adequate quantity and quality of the appropriate equipment within their training environment. These include but are not limited to: balls, cones, bibs, goals (various sizes), hydration products, uniform attire for staff & players, etc. Beyond these required items, clubs are encouraged to identify additional resources, equipment, and technology that can be used to enhance the developmental experience of their players. These could include but are not limited to: filming all games and training sessions from a high-angle camera for video analysis, biometric testing, heart-rate monitors, GPS trackers, etc.



 Basic Training Equipment

 Filming & Video Analysis 

 Wearable Tracking Devices

 Match/Performance Analysis 



All USL Academy programs are required to have a certain amount of the player’s participation expenses (i.e. coaching, facilities, uniforms, travel, etc.) at least partially subsidized. As clubs assess to what extent they are able to do this, the following must be taken into consideration:



Participation Fee Limit

Affiliate Collaboration

Player Scholarships

Partner Considerations

Free-Play Model


For complete details on all of these standards and the overall application process for the USL Academy competitions, please contact USL Technical Director Liam O’Connell.

Liam O'Connell 
Technical Director

By mandating minimum standards in the areas above, and by working with each individual club to implement the appropriate strategies & best practices in player development, the USL Academy model develops a clear pathway for elite youth prospects to reach the professional level in every community within which there is a USL property. These efforts will be driven by our individual clubs, and provide each of them with a platform that includes:
Focused Youth Development
This model focuses the developmental efforts & resources of USL pro clubs towards the elite youth prospects that truly have the potential to go pro. Each player within these environments can also have a more personal, individualized developmental experience within the club.
Cost-Effective Development Structure
By focusing on a more selective group of players & by having fewer overall teams & individuals to manage within the club, owners have an opportunity to develop first-team players from within, without having to spend an excessive amount of resources to do so. With travel being one of the greatest costs of these elite youth programs in the US, significant costs are already alleviated by only having one team to be responsible for.
Youth Affiliate Bond
By ensuring USL clubs provide real value to their youth counterparts through affiliate programs, and by investing in a more professional development environment, this model can be complimentary to (as opposed to competing with) the local/regional youth landscape.
Professional Environment & Connectivity
With a smaller group of academy players within the pre-professional environment, there are many more opportunities for those players to have meaningful touch points with the pro coaches, players, and support staff within the club. Those moments can be invaluable to a young player, and can leave a lasting impression in motivating them towards meeting their potential.
Economies of Scale (Shared Resources)
By focusing developmental efforts on a more appropriate group of players, there are numerous opportunities to cut costs by sharing resources already available at the professional level. This includes facilities & training space, access to high-level expert staff, use of equipment, and more.


USL Academy Application
As we move forward toward launching the country’s foremost pre-professional youth league, an application window will soon open for clubs looking to participate in the full year-round league structure. At that time, the USL will release a set of established developmental standards and expectations for interested applicants.A formal selection committee will then make final decisions on entry into the league, based on the level of the current player pool, history of player development success, population density, strength of affiliate programs, and other key factors. In some instances, youth affiliates of USL clubs may also apply to field a team in the USL Academy League, providing all standards are met.

For questions & to discuss USL Academy further, please contact USL Technical Director, Liam O’Connell.

Liam O'Connell 
Technical Director