USL Academy League

Coming In 2021

The goal of the USL Academy League is to provide a new professional pathway for youth players in USL communities across the United States. The first-of-its-kind pre-professional league will align with the United States’ professional calendar, complement existing local youth organizations and provide players extensive access to the First Teams of USL Clubs.

“At its core, the launch of our Academy League is about providing the opportunity for elite local youth soccer players to look down the street at a USL stadium and know that if they work hard enough, train hard enough, and believe in themselves, there is a pathway for them to achieve their dreams of becoming a professional soccer player and one day wearing a U.S. national team jersey,”

“Additionally, we aspire to create a unique community connection by building an engaging, respectful and trusting relationships between our clubs and the local Youth Soccer Organizations that are already serving our communities admirably.”The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim. The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.”

USL CEO, Alec Papadakis

USL Academy League History

In April, the United States Soccer Federation announced it was disbanding its Development Academy (DA) Program. A few hours later, Major League Soccer (MLS) announed it was creating its own academy system to replace the DA.

Independently, the USL had been planning to launch its own academy program. Prior to the start of the 2019 season, the USL revealed it plans for the future of its academy system with the announcement of the inaugural USL Academy Cup, which was to have taken place in May 2020. Those plans were changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After conversations with stakeholders from across the country over an 18-month period, the USL Academy League was announced on 6 May 2020.

It has been constructed to provide a high level pre-professional environment for all players through regionalized competition that is complementary to existing youth soccer organizations, and most importantly, provides opportunity and professional pathways to both new and previously overlooked communities across the country.

Comprised exclusively of clubs from across the USL’s network of 129 Championship, League One and League Two teams, the inaugural Academy League preseason is set to kick off in February 2021 – including a period of full integration with a club’s First Team – followed by a regular season that will align with the USL Championship and USL League One seasons spanning from March to November. The league will then conclude with the USL Academy League Playoffs, as well as the first-ever Academy League Final.

Unique to any other pre-professional set-up in the United States, USL Academy League teams will field a single youth team, geared towards top local players within the U15 to U19 age range, and built with a direct connection to the club’s First Team. The model is designed to allow identification and integration of the most outsntading of these youth players into a pre-professional environment at a younger age, giving them exposure to a higher level of play than they would normally experience, access to the resources and teaching of USL First Teams, all the while serving to complement to the work being done by other youth clubs in USL communities.

The league will set minimum standards for facilities, coaching, staffing, training and development, as well as other resources, with the goal being to help accelerate top youth prospects towards a potential career in professional soccer. The USL Academy League plans to be a major contributor to the development of professional talent across the United State in the run up to the 2026 World Cup and beyond, and provides a viable alternative to MLS and its affiliated, self-designated “elite” academies. 


“We have no doubt that our league will allow high-level talent to flourish through meaningful competition and learning, all within a model that is cost-effective and sustainable for clubs. The future of this endeavor is incredibly bright.”

Liam O’Connell, USL Senior Director of Youth Development