Surveying the Soccer Scene: The National Impact of US Club Soccer’s Pre-Academy Leagues

An important contributing factor to Mexico’s recent domination at seemingly every age level has been the implementation of a comprehensive youth development system.  The centerpieces of that system are the national u-15 and u-18 leagues.  Several organizations in the United States have taken steps in past few years to create a similarly comprehensive and productive development path in this country.

There are 80 professional affiliates and independent youth clubs that participate in the United States Soccer Federation Development Academy League.  The DA has operated a u-15/16 age division and a u-17/18 age division since its founding in 2009.  There is currently nothing available on a national scale above or below those age groups.  While there remains no centrally organized u-20 league in the United States, there is a rapidly expanding youth system below the Development Academy.  These leagues may provide the basis for the recently announced u-13/14 Development Academy age division starting in the fall of 2013.  One of these programs, conveniently enough, is called the Pre-Academy Leagues.

Operating under the auspices of U.S. Club Soccer’s National Premier Leagues directive, the Pre-Academy Leagues offer the same high level of competition and intelligent training schedule that incited the initial drive for the Development Academy, only for the u-11 though u-15 age groups.  Across several geographic divisions, youth clubs (a large percentage of which are currently participating in the USDA) now have the chance to develop players in a competitive atmosphere at a younger age.  This allows clubs with several age brackets the opportunity to groom their players from as early as 10 or 11 and keep these players on a well-thought out training regimen to best develop young talent.

There were three conferences in the Pre-Academy League for the 2011-12 season: Northeast, Southeast, and Texas.

The Northeast Pre-Academy League is split into two divisions, a majority of which currently participate in the USDA.
Liberty Division:
Albertson SC (NY)
Cosmos Academy East (NY)
FC Greater Boston (MA)
FC Westchester (NY)
Met Oval (NY)
Oakwood SC (CT)
Seacoast United (NH)
South Central Premier (NY)

Mid-Atlantic Division:
Baltimore Bays Chelsea (MD)
D.C. United (DC)
Match Fit (NJ)
McLean Youth Soccer (VA)
New York Red Bulls (NY)
NJSA 04 (NJ)
PA Classics (PA)
Potomac SA (MD)

The Southeast Pre-Academy League, is made up of 13 clubs which all field older teams in U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy:
Charlotte SA (NC)
Clearwater Chargers (FL)
Concorde Fire (GA)
Georgia United Soccer Alliance (GA)
IMG Soccer Academy (FL)
North Meck SC (NC)
Kendall SC (FL)
Richmond Kickers (VA)
Richmond Strikers (VA)
South Carolina United Battery (SC)
Virginia Rush (VA)
Weston FC (FL)

The nine clubs in the Texas Pre-Academy League, which all field teams in the Development Academy, include two MLS clubs and the world renowned Dallas Texans youth club:
Classics Elite
Dallas Texans
FC Dallas
Houston Dynamo
Lonestar SC
Texans SC
Texas Rush

USCS Beyond the Pre-Academy Leagues
These three Pre-Academy Leagues are the jewels in the crown of US Club Soccer’s National Premier Leagues (NPL).  According to their website, “The NPL has been created to provide a unified, league-based national developmental platform with the highest level of competition in given geographic areas, and to elevate and change the competitive youth soccer landscape based upon fundamental principles outlined in US Club Soccer’s 10-year vision.”  NPL currently oversees 17 regional leagues focused on the development of young soccer players.

Starting in the fall of 2012, US Club Soccer will add the South Atlantic Premier League and the Mountain Developmental League to its list of regional youth structures.  The South Atlantic Premier League will have six clubs running a u-13 and a u-14 division.
Atlanta Fire United (Ga.)
Augusta Arsenal (Ga.)
Charlotte United (N.C.)
FC Alliance (Tenn.)
Roanoke Stars (Va.)
Triangle United (N.C.)

The following quotes are taken from USCS’s press release.  “FC Alliance is very excited to join the South Atlantic Premier League,” said FC Alliance Director of Coaching Josh Gray. “The league and the quality clubs that have entered it will enhance our club model for player development and provide our teams with great competition.”

“Triangle United is excited about the opportunity to participate in the South Atlantic Premier League,” said Triangle United Director of Soccer John Cirillo. “Each of the clubs involved in the league are well-recognized clubs with great leadership and great teams. Having these teams to compete against is only going to make our club stronger. We are looking forward to many great years of competition as the league develops.”

The Mountain Developmental League will consist of 12 clubs playing in age divisions ranging from u-13 to u-17.  Two of the clubs, Real Colorado and Colorado Rush, currently participate in the USDA at the u-16 and u-18 levels.
Arsenal Colorado (Colo.)
Blackhawks (Ariz.)
Colorado Rush (Colo.)
Colorado Storm (Colo.)
FC Boulder (Colo.)
Gilbert SC (Ariz.)
New Mexico Rush (N.M.)
Pride Soccer Club (Colo.)
Real Colorado (Colo.)
Rio SC (N.M.)
SC Del Sol (Ariz.)
Sereno SC (Ariz.)

The following two quotes were published by USCS here.  “Colorado Rush is extremely excited to be part of the Mountain Developmental League,” said Colorado Rush SC Director of Coaching Wes Hart. “The landscape of youth soccer has changed drastically over the past few years and we believe that the NPL is another positive step in helping our sport grow.”

“Rio Soccer Club is excited about the opportunity to participate in the Mountain Developmental League,” said Chris Cartlidge, Director of Coaching at Rio SC (formerly Rio Vista FC). “The participating clubs have a track record of developing quality teams and players. NPL affiliation will enhance the diversity and the quality of our competitive games and we are looking forward to this outstanding developmental opportunity for our membership.”

Why is it important nationally?
The expansion of US Club Soccer’s National Premier Leagues, especially the Pre-Academy Leagues, is crucial nationally because of the recent announcement that the Development Academy will hold a u-13/14 age division in the 2013-14 season.  Because NPL regional leagues contain both current DA clubs and other independent youth clubs they will be an important resource for the newly announced national league.  In accordance with the information hitherto released by the DA, the youngest age division will consist of some clubs already playing in the older divisions and some new clubs that aren’t not currently members of the Development Academy.

US Club Soccer has already laid down the framework to allow the Development Academy to grow.  In many respects, USCS has done the dirty work on the ground level by establishing regional leagues for the most competitive youth clubs around the country.  Participation in the youngest division may increase the likelihood that new clubs will strive to join the DA at the u-16 and u-18 levels, by adhering to a stringent set of regulations and operation guidelines.  Because the Pre-Academy League allow clubs that participate in the Development Academy League the chance to play their younger players in a similarly formatted competition, with regard to the training to game time ratio, the transition to the new age division in the DA will be much smoother.

For more information..
The following overview and more information can be found on the National Premier Leagues website.


US Club Soccer’s National Premier Leagues have been created to provide a national competitive developmental platform:

• focused on long-term player development;

• for the country’s top soccer clubs, allowing consistent, meaningful high-level games appropriately scheduled with higher training-to-game ratios;

• that allows players to be scouted and evaluated by U.S. Soccer National Staff and Technical Advisors;

• that is designed and structured by the clubs, based on the needs of the clubs;

• using international rules of competition;

• that provides an avenue for qualification for the NPL Champions Cup.

The NPL is an important component of US Club Soccer’s 10-year vision to refine the landscape for competitive youth soccer. This vision recognizes that:

• properly-structured youth soccer clubs are the vehicle through which player development does and must occur in the United States.

• clubs should play in leagues that provide meaningful games, allow establishment of the proper training-to-game ratio, and eliminate calendar congestion.

• National Premier Leagues, as well as the best clubs, should be integrated in US Club Soccer’s id2 National Identification and Development Program, include Player Development Programs (PDPs) in select local markets, and work closely with U.S. Soccer staff regarding player identification, and player and coach development.


7 thoughts on “Surveying the Soccer Scene: The National Impact of US Club Soccer’s Pre-Academy Leagues

  1. Very comprehensive and thoughtful post…thanks very much. One thing that I find most striking about these elite youth development programs is that they are *largely* comprised of players from affluent families. I know this to not be the case in the UK and can imagine it is not the case on other countries. It won’t be until the United States figures this out that it is able to tap into the full player pool instead of a subset as defined by financial mobility.

    And yes, I am the parent of such an American player.

    • Thanks for reading, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      You struck on a very big obstacle in U.S. development that is a task for another post or another writer, haha. The problem of pricing players out of development soccer has long been a problem that doesn’t look to have an easy solution.

  2. Pingback: USDA’s u14 division and UEFA’s Youth League | Doherty Soccer

  3. Pingback: Surveying the Soccer Scene: The Role of U.S. Club Soccer | Doherty Soccer

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