USL Academy to Fill Essential Role in Path to Pro Ranks

Original article written by Nicholas Murray

A little over a year ago, the USL announced the introduction of a new platform – USL Academy – aimed directly at the growth and development of future professional players in conjunction with clubs across the USL Championship, League One and League Two.

Now, following last week’s dissolution of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, its presence in providing a path to the professional ranks in the United States is looking more essential than ever.

“We have such talent in this country, and the investment USL teams are now making into these academy programs is phenomenal,” said USL President Jake Edwards in conversation with The Athletic’s Jeff Rueter. “We’ve got to unearth these gems in all of these cities, and that ultimately aligns with what the DA’s mission was, which was to produce quality professionals for the national team. The USL will play its role in doing that.”

This was, though, the plan all along for what USL Academy was going to be – in his conversation with Rueter, Edwards said the DA’s dissolution “doesn’t really impact us, and it doesn’t really affect us.” – as the organization and its clubs build on an already-strong foundation. Since the introduction of USL Academy signings as a roster designation in 2013, the Championship has been at the forefront of offering players with big futures the chance to shine.

Orange County SC Francis Jacobs professional signing with the club aged 14 years old.

Now as the league arrives at its 2020 season, 15 independent Championship clubs – including the independently-owned Reno 1868 FC and Rio Grande Valley FC – feature USL Academy signings on their rosters. Some clubs have taken even greater steps, signing players to their first professional contracts. Last year, Orange County SC made 14-year-old Francis Jacobs the United States’ youngest male professional soccer player in history, while San Antonio FC made 15-year-old Leo Torres the youngest signing in its history.

Both of those players are yet to make their Championship debut, but they did compete against each other at last October’s USL Academy Cup in San Antonio. The first on-fi