With USL Academy League launching in 2021, more young players than ever now have the chance to play professional soccer and compete against professionals while staying close to home.
The platform is built on four key facets: defining player development pathways from local youth clubs to senior teams within each market, strategically aligning the USL 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 encourages its clubs to form youth networks with prominent local youth clubs in their communities and states.
These youth networks are mutually beneficial to USL and youth clubs by acting in the best interest of long-term player development. They create clearly-defined pathways from grassroots to professional soccer in markets with USL senior teams around the country.
The USL Academy League aligns with the professional soccer calendar in North America.
Preseason begins in February, allowing USL Academy players to join Championship and League One squads as they prepare for their seasons.
The rest of the year is divided into three three-month cycles: March to May, June to August, and September to November.
The USL Academy League Finals are held in November. The USL Academy League Champion will be crowned at the conclusion of the 4-day event.
This alignment allows players to not only compete in the USL Academy League, but for their local youth club, high school, and USL senior team.
The USL Academy League provides 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 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 Academy players to compete with senior team players over 19 years of age.
Players who need more time to develop 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 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.
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.
Players can 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.