August 7 – The United Soccer League (USL) which runs the second and a third tier league in the US, has announced plans for a USL Academy League and the criteria for its clubs to enter.
The league will compete directly with the USSF’s recently launched Academy that is still bedding into the US development hierarchy but not without criticism from grassroots US clubs, many of whom accuse it is of being a revenue-generating rather than a high-performance vehicle.
The USL says the Academy League is “designed to create the clearest path possible to professional soccer.”
The USL says that it will soon open an application window for prospective academy teams with the league likely to kick off next season (2020). The league will run a year-round programme.
“We’re incredibly excited to announce the structure with which USL clubs will construct their USL Academy programs moving forward,” said USL CEO, Alec Papadakis.
“We formally presented this model to the Championship and League One Board of Governors this past week and have already begun the implementation process with our clubs. As we move closer to launching the USL Academy League – the country’s first pre-professional youth league – we look forward to helping more players than ever pursue their dream of playing professionally for their local club.”
USL Academy teams will field a single elite youth team, geared towards top local players primarily within the U15 to U19 age range, “and built with a direct connection to the club’s senior team”. The USL will mandate caps on the number of players at each age who comprise the team.
Liam O’Connell, USL Senior Director of Youth Development, said: “In building the foundation of these USL Academies, we will be guiding our clubs to work with their local youth counterparts through affiliate programs. Our hope is that doing so will not only raise the overall standard in these markets, but also help our country provide more opportunities than ever for young players aspiring to reach the professional ranks.”
The USL has already announced its inaugural USL Academy Cup, played by clubs from across its three league tiers (League Two is a U-23 league). This competition will be played by the U-13 and U-17 age groups. The USL said that to date 40+ USL clubs are set to be included in the first USL Academy Cup with 60+ teams between both ages at the national event in May 2020. In 2020/21 the USL saud it will bring in the U-19 age group as well.
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