A large number of MLS NEXT clubs on the East Coast have lead the way to launch a newly formed league, the National Academy League (NAL). The league kicked off the fall of 2023 with 6 conferences, 77 clubs, and 510 teams.
Founding members include many MLS NEXT member clubs who are not officially affiliated with Major League Soccer (i.e. – New England Revs, Philadelphia Union, New York City FC, etc.).
Introduction to NAL
There were 54 soccer clubs on the original members list for the National Academy League. These teams include some of the top clubs from the northeast down to the southeast of the U.S. and will be broken up into six conferences: New England, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Mid-America North, Southeast, and Florida.
Some of the founding members include well-known and established clubs including:
- Florida Rush
- IMG Academy
- Inter Atlanta FC
- Alexandria SA
- PA Classics
- Cedar Stars
- BW Gottschee
- FA Euro
- Boston Bolts
- Seacoast United
For each of the league’s conferences, there will be a U13-U19 group with the flexibility to create events and tournaments within the conference.
There is also a female division in the New England and Northeast divisions.
As part of the competition, teams will have the opportunity to attend the IMG Cup College Showcase in December. Top teams will also be invited to compete at the National Academy League Championship taking place in June of 2024.
Founding Member Conferences
New England Conference: Boston Bolts, IFA, NEFC, Seacoast United, Valeo, Bayside FC, NY Rush Select, SDA, NY Elite
Northeast Conference: BW Gottschee, Cedar Stars Academy North Bergen, Beachside SC of CT, FC Westchester, Cedar Stars Academy Monmouth, TSF Academy, Ironbound SC, New York SC, DUSC, Met Oval, Barca Academy Pro, Cedar Stars Academy Hudson Valley, FA Euro, LI Slammers
Mid-Atlantic Conference: Alexandria SA, Achilles, SACBA, Bethesda SC, FC DELCO, PA Classics, PDA, Real Jersey, Sporting Athletic, SYC
Southeast Conference: Hoover-Vestavia Soccer, Inter Atlanta FC, Kalonji Soccer Academy, Lanier Soccer Academy, Southern Soccer Academy, Wake FC, Triangle United SC
Florida Conference: Florida Rush, Tampa Bay United, Weston FC, Miami Rush Kendall SC, West Florida Flames, Jacksonville FC, IMG Academy, United Soccer Alliance, Ideasport Soccer Academy, Chargers SC, Plantation FC Academy, FC Tampa Rangers, SFFA, Orlando City Seminole
The NAL recently announced that it has opened a new region and is set to welcome twelve new clubs for its inaugural season. The Mid-America Conference will be represented by clubs from Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
These youth soccer clubs include:
- Bavarian United (WI)
- Cincinnati United Premier (OH)
- FC United (IL)
- Indiana Fire (IN)
- Javanon FC (KY)
- Lou Fusz Athletic (MO)
- Michigan Hawks (MI)
- Michigan Jaguars (MI)
- Midwest United FC (MI)
- SC Wave (WI)
- Sockers FC Chicago (IL)
- Vardar (MI)
This expansion will bring the total number of participating clubs to 77 and include over 500 teams.
The National Academy League was founded by a large contingent of MLS NEXT youth clubs, and its mission is to provide a high-level, development-focused league for young soccer players. Stay tuned for more updates on the new youth league and its growing number of conferences and clubs.
Creating a New Pathway for Boys Youth Soccer
Essentially, the National Academy League is creating a new (and, maybe better?) pathway for boys youth soccer on the east side of the U.S.
It will be interesting to see how this affects the non-affiliated MLS teams in MLS NEXT and ECNL. I think the former will be most affected with many ECNL teams transitioning to the NAL but this will be determined by the individual club.
We’ll also have to wait and see if and when the new league expands to the rest of the country.
In their press release, The National Academy states that…
“The nation’s top Academy Clubs collaborate to support their developmental pathway for players focused on their professional and college careers through the National Academy League.”
If your soccer club would like to apply for the National Academy League, check out their online application.
FAQ – National Academy League
The newly formed National Academy League will aspire to help the nation’s top clubs support their pathway for players focused on their future playing at the next level. As of 2023, this is a boys-only league.
ECNL has been around longer so it has many more teams in various regions throughout the U.S. Additionally, ECNL has boys and girls teams while National Academy League is only boys.
MLS NEXT is a higher-tier in U.S. youth soccer.