Prior to the start of the 2019 season, the USL launched its new league brand as the organization looks to expand its reach over U.S. soccer. The USL was renamed the USL Championship, a new USL League One (third tier) was created and the Premier Development League (PDL) was rebranded as USL League Two — straight out of the FA playbook in England.
And while expansion across all three tiers will continue, the USL's next focus is formalizing academy competitions for the next generation of players.
Last week the USL Academy Cup was announced for May 2020, leading up to what is expected to be the launch of a full academy league by 2021. Academy sides will be organized by two age groups, U-13 and U-17, two levels, Elite and Premier, and Eastern and Western Conferences.
33 clubs from across the three USL divisions will be represented in the inaugural cup competition. USL CEO Alec Papadakis stated, “This year’s cup competition is the first big step towards building a league model for all of our academies."
The goal is to create a more defined pathway from the U-13 level to U-17 and then into League Two and up to the professional ranks.
ICYMI: This week we announced the participating clubs for the inaugural #USLAcademy Cup!
— United Soccer League (@USL_HQ) May 4, 2019
The academy sides will first meet in regional conference events, used for seeding in the nationwide cup. The Western Conference academy event will take place this October in San Antonio, Texas, and the Eastern Conference will follow next February of 2020 in Lakewood Ranch, Florida, before the national competition next May in Tampa, Florida — the headquarters of the USL.
You can find a full list of the academics involved in the Cup, as well as the breakdown of the two conferences here.
Five years ago the USL had 14 clubs, compared to this year's number of 36. Rapid expansion, the creation of a new third tier league, continually formalizing the amateur league (USL League Two) and now pushing forward to create full cup competitions and leagues for the U-13 and U-17 ranks; it's been a very successful past half-decade.