USL Soccer: What is it?
USL Soccer, also known as the United Soccer League, is a professional soccer league in the United States and Canada.
It is sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation (U.S. Soccer) as a Division II professional league, below Major League Soccer (MLS) in the professional hierarchy.
The USL overseas three men’s leagues:
- USL Championship
- USL League One
- USL League Two
Two women’s leagues:
- USL Super League (planned for August 2024)
- USL W League
It also encompasses one elite player development platform (USL Academy), and a national youth platform (USL Super Y League).
Over the years, the USL is built on a proven and recognized model in U.S. soccer and accounts for more than 200 clubs in its membership.
In this article, we’ll explain everything there is to know about USL soccer.
History of USL Soccer
As the USL leagues become more popular by the year, it is important to understand its history.
Founding of USL
The USL has a really interesting history and an unlikely origin story. The league began operations in 1986 as the Southwest Indoor Soccer League, a semi-professional indoor league.
The league quickly expanded and added an outdoor season in 1989. In 1991, the league renamed itself the United States Interregional Soccer League.
Expansion of USL
The USL continued to grow and expand over the years. In 2005, the USL merged with the Premier Development League (PDL), creating the largest organization of elite-level soccer leagues in North America.
In 2010, the USL announced the formation of USL PRO, a new professional league that would begin play in 2011.
In 2017, the USL was sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation (U.S. Soccer) as a Division II league, placing it under Major League Soccer (Division I) in the U.S. professional hierarchy.
Is USL Pro or Semi-pro?
Many people wonder if the USL is a professional or semi-professional league.
For men, the USL Championship, which is the top division of the USL, is considered a professional men’s soccer league. However, the USL League One and USL League Two are considered to be semi-professional leagues.
For women, the USL Super League is a planned professional women’s soccer league in the United States, which is expected to begin play in August 2024. The league is intended to be a second-division professional or pre-professional league, below the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Additionally, the USL W League is considered a semi-professional league, as players are not paid a full-time salary and are able to maintain amateur status while playing in the league.
USL’s Role in American Soccer
The USL has played a significant role in the recent growth and development of soccer in the United States.
The league has provided a platform for soccer players to showcase their skills and advance to higher levels of competition.
Additionally, the USL has helped to develop soccer infrastructure in communities across North America, providing opportunities for fans to enjoy the beautiful game.
USL Championship (Men’s)
Overview of USL Championship
The USL Championship League is the second-highest level of professional soccer in the United States and Canada. It was formed in 2011 when two existing leagues merged. Since then, the league has grown to include 24 teams (a few teams recently moved to MLS NEXT PRO) from across North America.
The USL Championship is a Division II league, meaning it sits below Major League Soccer (MLS) in the professional soccer pyramid. However, it still offers high-level soccer and attracts talented players from around the world.
As of the 2023 season, the USL Championship has 24 teams split into two conferences: Eastern and Western. Here are the teams in each conference:
- Atlanta United 2
- Birmingham Legion FC
- Charleston Battery
- Charlotte Independence
- Hartford Athletic
- Indy Eleven
- Louisville City FC
- Memphis 901 FC
- Miami FC
- New York Red Bulls II
- North Carolina FC
- Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
- Saint Louis FC
- Tampa Bay Rowdies
- Austin Bold FC
- Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
- El Paso Locomotive FC
- Las Vegas Lights FC
- Los Angeles FC II
- Oakland Roots SC
- Orange County SC
- Phoenix Rising FC
- Portland Timbers 2
- Real Monarchs SLC
- Rio Grande Valley FC
- Sacramento Republic FC
- San Antonio FC
USL Championship Playoffs
At the end of the regular season, the top 14 teams from each conference qualify for the USL Championship Playoffs. The playoffs are a single-elimination tournament, with the winner of each conference facing off in the USL Championship Final.
The USL Championship Final is typically held in November and is a highly anticipated event for soccer fans across North America. In recent years, the league has seen increased attendance and viewership for the playoffs and final match.
The USL Championship offers an exciting and competitive brand of soccer for fans in North America. With talented players and passionate supporters, the league continues to grow in popularity and influence.
USL League One (Men’s)
Overview of USL League One
USL League One is a semi-professional men’s soccer league that was launched in 2019. As of 2023, the league has 14 teams who play 32 regular season games, followed by playoffs. The league’s mission is to unite passionate fans in new markets with the thrill of a proven professional soccer experience.
As of 2023, there are 14 teams that compete in USL League One. The teams are:
- Chattanooga Red Wolves SC
- FC Tucson
- Fort Lauderdale CF (Moved to MLS NEXT PRO)
- Greenville Triumph SC
- Lansing Ignite FC
- Madison 1863 FC
- New England Revolution II (Moved to MLS NEXT PRO)
- North Carolina FC
- Richmond Kickers
- South Georgia Tormenta FC
- Union Omaha
- Lexington SC
- Santa Barbara Sky FC (Expansion Team)
- USL Spokane (Expansion Team)
USL League One Playoffs
The top six teams from the regular season qualify for the USL League One playoff. The playoffs consist of two rounds: the semifinals and the final.
The semifinals are single-elimination matches, with the higher-seeded team hosting the lower-seeded team.
The final is also a single-elimination match, with the highest-seeded team hosting the match. The winner of the final is crowned the USL League One champion.
USL League Two (Men’s)
Overview of USL League Two
USL League Two, formerly known as the Premier Development League (PDL), is a semi-professional soccer league. It is considered the fourth tier of the American soccer pyramid, below Major League Soccer (MLS), the USL Championship, and USL League One.
The league was founded in 1995 and has since grown to feature over 100 franchises in four conferences throughout North America.
The primary focus of USL League Two is player development, providing opportunities for young talent to showcase their skills and potentially move on to higher levels of professional soccer.
The league also allows for partnerships with professional clubs and provides a platform for college players to compete during the summer months.
As of the 2023 season, there are 122 teams participating in USL League Two. Some of the notable teams include:
- Academica SC (Turlock, CA)
- Arizona Arsenal SC (Mesa, AZ)
- Des Moines Menace (Des Moines, IA)
- FC Golden State Force (Pasadena, CA)
- Flint City Bucks (Flint, MI)
- New York Red Bulls U23 (Harrison, NJ)
- Ocean City Nor’easters (Ocean City, NJ)
- Portland Timbers U23 (Portland, OR)
- Reading United AC (Reading, PA)
- West Virginia Alliance FC (Charleston, WV)
USL League Two Playoffs
The top two teams from each of the 16 regional divisions advance to the playoffs, which consist of four rounds of single-elimination matches. The winner of the championship match is awarded the USL League Two trophy.
The playoffs are a significant opportunity for players to showcase their skills in high-pressure situations and potentially earn professional contracts.
In recent years, several USL League Two alumni have gone on to play in MLS and other professional leagues around the world.
It is also a great opportunity for college players to showcase their skills during the summer months before their official fall season kicks off.
USL Super League (Women’s)
The USL has announced the launch of a new professional women’s soccer league, the USL Super League. The league is set to begin play in August 2024.
The USL Super League is expected to feature teams from across the U.S. and will be owned and operated by the USL. The league is intended to provide a platform for women’s soccer players to develop their skills and potentially move up to the professional ranks in the future.
The launch of the league is a significant development for women’s soccer in the United States. While the NWSL has been successful in establishing itself as the top women’s soccer league in the country, there has been a need for a second-division league to provide more opportunities for players to develop their skills and gain experience.
While the launch of the USL Super League is still a year away, anticipation is already building for the start of the new league. It has the potential to expand the footprint of women’s soccer in the U.S.
USL W League (Women’s)
The USL W League is considered a semi-professional league, as players are not paid a full-time salary and are able to maintain amateur status while playing in the league. The league is intended to provide opportunities for women’s soccer players to continue playing after college, and to develop their skills in a competitive environment.
While there have been other pre-professional women’s soccer leagues in the past, the USL W League is the first to have the backing of a major professional soccer organization in the United States.
The USL W League has already attracted top talent from across the country, with players from NCAA Division I programs as well as international players competing in the league. The league has also received support from sponsors and fans, who see the potential for the league to develop into a major force in women’s soccer.
While the USL W League is still in its early stages, there is optimism about its future. The league has already demonstrated its ability to attract top talent and provide a high-quality soccer experience for players and fans.
Overview of USL Academy
The USL Academy is a player development model for future USL Academies and their participation in the USL Academy League, which is a first-of-its-kind competition designed to create the clearest path possible to professional soccer, with a direct and immediate connection to the local USL senior team.
The USL Academy is an innovative approach to player development, and it is designed to provide young players with a clear pathway to professional soccer. The USL Academy is a three-tiered development system that is designed to provide young players with the opportunity to develop their skills and abilities in a competitive environment.
USL Academy Cup
The USL Academy Cup is a new competition that is designed to showcase the talent of young players from across the United States.
The USL Academy Cup is a great opportunity for young players to showcase their skills and abilities, and it is also a chance for scouts and coaches to identify talented young players. The competition is highly competitive, and it is a great way for young players to gain valuable experience and exposure.
In the most recent tournament, six age groups (U13-U19) were divided into 17 divisions based on previous their record and region. This is a wonderful opportunity for boys and girls teams to compete against teams they wouldn’t play against in their regular season.
Future of USL Soccer
The future of USL Soccer looks bright. With new expansion plans and international opportunities, USL Soccer is poised to become a major player in the global soccer landscape.
At the same time, it will be interesting to see how MLS NEXT Pro affects the trajectory of the USL.
USL Soccer has ambitious expansion plans that will see the league grow significantly in the coming years. With new teams joining the league every season, USL Soccer is quickly becoming a major force in the North American soccer scene.
The league has already announced plans to expand to 40 teams in the coming years, which will make it one of the largest soccer leagues in the world.
USL Soccer is also exploring international opportunities, with a focus on expanding the league’s reach beyond North America.
The league has already established partnerships with several international leagues, including the English Football League (EFL) and the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL), and is looking to expand further. By partnering with international leagues, USL Soccer can provide more opportunities for players to develop their skills and compete at the highest level.
How Much Do USL Soccer Players Make?
While salaries can vary widely depending on factors such as experience, position, and performance, there are some general guidelines you can use to get an idea of what players in the USL typically make.
As of 2022, the minimum salary for a USL player is $27,000 annually. However, this figure is only a starting point, and many players earn more than this. The average salary for players in the USL is around $40,000 to $70,000 per year, but this can vary widely depending on a variety of factors.
One of the biggest factors that can impact a player’s salary is their experience. Generally speaking, more experienced players will earn more than rookies or players who are just starting out. It also is dependent on the budget of the club.
Additionally, players who have achieved a higher level of success or who are loaned out by an MLS club may command higher salaries than their teammates.
Many players earning a salary from a USL contract are optimistic that they will one day play for an MLS team or go overseas to play professionally.
I commend you if you’ve read this far! I hope this helps you understand the United Soccer League (USL) soccer landscape more.
The USL has become a major force in professional soccer in the United States and Canada.
On the men’s side, a three-tiered system with expansion teams continuing to be brought into the mix is great for players who aspire to professionally in the U.S.
For female soccer players, the launch of the USL Super League in 2024 and the USL W League in 2022 demonstrate the league’s commitment to further developing women’s soccer in the United States.
As the USL continues to grow and expand, it has the potential to play an even greater role in the future of soccer in North America.