The USL announced on Wednesday that it will kick off its new USL Academy League in the spring of 2021.
All 129 USL Championship, League One and League Two teams are eligible to enter a
team in the new league. Unlike other youth leagues that have multiple age groups, the USL Academy League will feature a single group for teams with players that will range in age from 15 to 19.
The USL Academy League teams will be offshoots of youth programs USL clubs operate or affiliate with locally. In a league Q&A, Liam O’Connell
, the USL's senior director of
youth development, addressed some key issues.
O'Connell said plans for the league were not impacted
by the demise of
the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.
"We obviously understand there’s a major shift going on in the youth landscape," he said, "but we are 18 months into a five-year plan for USL
Academy that started with launching the platform, building resources and consulting our clubs, launching the Academy Cup, and now moving forward with our league model."
Seven USL pro
clubs had teams entered in the Development Academy in 2019-20. Eight clubs have teams entered in the ECNL in 2020-21, including North Carolina FC and the Charlotte Independence, which both had
programs in the DA. Other USL clubs could enter teams in the new youth league MLS is expected to announce shortly.
O'Connell, who hails from Massachusetts and spent six years working in
the Sporting KC youth program before joining the USL in 2019,
acknowledged that it is unknown what youth soccer will look like in 2021.
"We don’t want to be
blissfully ignorant of those facts," he said of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy. "I think the life of a youth soccer player will be drastically different coming out
of this. We’re not sure at what point it will be safe for an elite player to be traveling on planes to competitions and getting to games so those are the realities that we have to face. The
other one is obviously the financial impact where every level of the game is being affected, whether it’s professional clubs or individual families of youth players, we all as a soccer nation
probably have less resources than we did before."
O'Connell added that the USL Academy League will be able to draw upon the footprint across the three USL leagues and create regional
leagues that will be harder for other organizations to accomplish.
"That helps reduce costs in a way that will be really important coming out of this crisis," he said.
plans for the USL Academy League come as more USL pro teams have invested in academy programs and started to sign players at younger ages.
Youth Movement: Five USL academy programs of
note Charlotte Independence.
U-18/19s had 10-1-1 record in its 2019-20 DA U-18/19 division. Phoenix Rising.
Sandor Pelle and Josh Martinez won 2019 ECNL Boys
conference POY awards. Saint Louis FC.
Reached semifinals of 2019 DA U-18/19 division. San Antonio FC.
MF Jose Gallegos, 18, signed pro contract this winter. Sac
Quincy Butler, Roberto Hategan and Travian Sousa signed with German clubs.