Adult and Youth US Soccer Pyramid Explained

What is the US soccer pyramid? The US soccer pyramid is a multi-tiered structure that oversees various leagues and organizations for both youth and adult players in the United States. The United States is one of the few countries in the world that does not have a promotion and relegation system and instead they have a fixed soccer system.

All the top sports in the United States such as the MLB, NFL, NBA, and of course the MLS have a fixed system and many people argue this is one of the reasons why the MLS is far behind other top leagues, especially in Europe, that do have a promotion and relegation system.

In this guide, I will cover everything you need to know about the U.S Soccer pyramid. Remember the first step of climbing the ladder is to understand it, and this is especially true if you are a player looking to reach the professional level.

What is the US Soccer Pyramid?

At the top of the US men’s soccer pyramid sits the Major League Soccer (MLS), followed by the second division league known as the United Soccer League (USL) and semi-professional leagues like the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) and United Premier Soccer League (UPSL).

Since the MLS is in a fixed league system, the second division of US Soccer, USL Championship teams cannot be promoted to the MLS.  The top division of women’s soccer in the US is the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and the top division for youth players in the United States is MLS Next.

US Soccer Pyramid

Adult Men’s US Soccer Pyramid Explained

The following is the order of the major soccer leagues for men in the United States.

  • Professional 1st Division
    • Major League Soccer (MLS)
  • Professional 2nd Division
    • United Soccer League Championship (USL Championship)
  • Professional 3rd Division:
    • United Soccer League 1 (USL League 1)
    • National Independent Soccer Association (NISA)
    • MLS Next Pro
  • Semi-Professional/ High level Amateur 4th Division
    • United Soccer League 2 (USL League 2)
    • National Independent Soccer Association Nations (NISA Nations)
    • National Premier Soccer League (NPSL)
    • United Premier Soccer League (UPSL)
  • Other lower level Amateur Leagues
  • Recreational Games
US Soccer Pyramid

Adult Women’s US Soccer Pyramid Explained

The following is the order of the major soccer leagues for women in the United States.

  • Professional 1st Division
    • National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL)
  • Professional 1st Division (Not yet started but planned to start on August 2024)
    • USL Super League
  • Semi-Professional
    • Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL)
    • United Women’s Soccer League
    • United States Adult Women’s Soccer (USASA)
US Soccer Pyramid

Youth US Soccer Pyramid Explained

The following is the order of the major soccer leagues for youth players in the United States.

  • Best Youth Academies
    • MLS Next
    • Girls Academy (GA)
  • Second Best Youth Academies
    • National Academy League (NPL)
    • Girls Academy Rising (GA rising)
  • Best Youth Leagues
    • Development Player League (DPL)
    • ENPL and ECNL
  • National League Conferences
    • NPL and ECNL Regional Leagues
  • Youth Academy
  • Youth Travel Teams
  • Youth Recreational Teams

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the US Open Cup?

The US Open Cup is a tournament open to all teams, professional and amateur, to see who wins the trophy for best team in the United States. The team is always won by a MLS team, but sometimes lower level teams can make huge upsets, in the knockout stages, which is one of the reasons why soccer is called the beautiful game.

Can USL teams get promoted and become MLS teams?

No, USL teams cannot get promoted and become MLS teams. The United States has a fixed system, not a relegation and promotion system which means that teams have to pay their way to the top division and they cannot climb their way up like teams in other countries.

What are the best amateur soccer leagues in the United States?

Some of the best amateur soccer leagues in the United States Soccer federation include the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) and the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL).

Where does college soccer rank in the US Soccer pyramid?

The U.S soccer system is different from other systems in that, not only does it not have promotion and relegation, but it also has a huge emphasis on college soccer. Soccer is not technically part of the U.S soccer system but it can be considered to a similar level as a 3rd or 4th division team, but not a division 2 team (USL Championship).

What is the best soccer training program?

The best online soccer training program and soccer app is Football Entangled. There is no other program like Football Entangled on the market and this community, much more than just an app, will help you get closer to making your dreams a reality.

How can I learn more about the game?

To learn more about soccer the most important thing is to join a team and play the game as much as possible. If possible, analyze high level games as much as you can and your own games as well by recording them with a soccer camera. Also read soccer books, listen to podcasts and interviews, and watch soccer documentaries, as well as some movies, tv shows, and anime.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the US Soccer Pyramid stands as a structured framework nurturing soccer talent across various age groups and skill levels. Despite lacking a promotion and relegation system, it offers a lot of opportunities for players to develop and compete, from the professional tiers of MLS to grassroots youth leagues.

The first step of climbing the American soccer pyramid is to understand it, which is exactly what I have broken down in this in-depth guide.

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