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USL Academy League: Club Strategies

With the USL Academy League set to launch in 2021, more young players than ever will have the chance to play professional soccer and compete against professionals while staying close to home.

The platform will be built on four key facets: defining player development pathways from local youth clubs to senior teams within each market, strategically aligning the Academy calendar with the U.S. professional soccer season, effectively identifying the area’s best talent, and promoting those players when the time is right for them.


  • With over 140 senior clubs throughout the Championship, League One and League Two levels of the United Soccer League structure, young players in America now have more opportunities to play professional soccer than ever before.

  • The USL Academy system will encourage its clubs to form youth networks with prominent local youth clubs in their communities and states.

  • These youth networks will be mutually beneficial to USL and youth clubs by acting in the best interest of long-term player development and creating clearly-defined pathways from grassroots to professional soccer in markers with USL senior teams around the country.

Strategic Alignment

  • The USL Academy League will align with the professional soccer calendar in North America.

  • Preseason will begin in February, allowing USL Academy players to join Championship and League One squads as they prepare for their seasons as well.

  • The rest of the year is divided into three three-month seasons: March to May, June to August, and September to November.

  • The USL Academy League playoffs will be held in November.

  • This alignment allows players not only to compete in the USL Academy League, but for their local youth club, high school, and potentially for their USL senior team.

Talent Identification

  • The USL Academy League is set to provide the ideal approach for players who are at varying stages of their development by offering four player classifications: Part-Time Senior Status (Youth), Part-Time Senior Status (Overage), Full-Time Academy Status and Part-Time Youth Status.

  • Players who are ready to compete at the next level will earn Part-Time Senior Status, giving them the opportunity to train regularly with their club’s Senior Team or potentially join the roster as a USL Academy signing.

  • Clubs have the opportunity to utilize up to five Overage players on game-day, allowing for Academy players to compete with Senior Team players over 19 years of age. 

  • Players who need more time to develop will take Full-Time Academy Status, giving them a chance to compete throughout the full USL Academy League season while keeping them on the path to senior status.

  • Part-Time Youth Status offers a starting point for younger players. Players taking this status will compete primarily with their current youth clubs while having the opportunity to step up to compete with the USL Academy team during one of the three periods during the Academy League Season.

Player Promotion

  • Introduced in 2013, the USL Academy Contract mechanism allows the best players from a club’s academy to join the senior team to train and compete at the professional level without sacrificing collegiate eligibility.

  • The USL Academy League takes that idea and expands upon it. Players can now earn a place in a USL Academy League squad by excelling within a club’s youth network. There, they can go up against top players and teams in the next stage of their development, helping their team to success on the field and proving their readiness for the next step.

  • In creating a system where players have the opportunity to consistently prove themselves against increasing levels of competition, the USL Academy League will provide more players across the United States with opportunities to understand what it takes to maximize their potential.

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