U.S Youth Soccer League System Explained

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Written by Daniel Pena, Bachelors in Kinesiology and footballer: Learn More

US youth soccer is in charge of arranging the leagues and competitions for soccer players at the youth level in the United States. Understanding the U.S soccer pyramid, at both the youth and senior levels, is important for any soccer parent or aspiring soccer player who wants to play in college or professionally.

In this blog, I will break down the different leagues and tiers of the U.S youth soccer league system.

U.S Youth Soccer

The Landscape of U.S. Youth Soccer

U.S. youth soccer has seen considerable changes over the years, and now it is a critical component of many young athletes’ lives. In the United States, the beautiful game has grown tremendously due to various factors such as high participation rates, comprehensive player development programs, and strong community outreach initiatives.

With so much competition in the sport and with new leagues and teams being formed every year, it is important to understand where each team ranks and how the different youth leagues compare with each other.

MLS Next

In the United States, the best youth league is the MLS Next, which is made up of top teams and academies around the country. This league was created in 2020 by the MLS and it replaced the Developmental Academy (DA) league.

The MLS Next is made up of MLS youth academies as well as top rated non-MLS affiliated clubs. The MLS Next is basically an upgraded version of the Developmental Academy.

Elite Clubs National League (ECNL)

The next best youth soccer league is the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) which is made up of the top rated youth teams that did not make it into the MLS next. The ECNL league is made up of 79 teams and initially in 2009 it was created as an elite girl’s soccer league, but in 2017 the ECNL boys league was created.

Boy’s Elite Academy League

The Boy’s Elite Academy League, is a high-level youth soccer league established in the 2020-21 season. This league is made up of two divisions, the Northeast Division and the Southwest division and it started with 10 and 12 teams respectively, but the league just keeps on growing so more and more teams keep getting added.

National Academy League

The National Academy League is one of the newest leagues on this list and it is another top youth soccer league. The National Academy League is made up of 70 teams competing in the boys U13 to U19 age groups.

The National Academy League is expected to act as a pathway for players to reach MLS Next teams and the first season of this league began in September 2023.

ECNL Regional League

The ECNL Regional League is part of the ECNL leagues, but the main difference is that this league only plays teams within the same region, while the higher level ECNL league plays teams nationally. With that being said this is still a high level youth soccer league.

Northeast Academy League

The Northeast Academy league is a high level youth soccer league operated by USYS for players in the age groups between U11 and U19. This league has a strategic relationship with the MLS next, although they are not operated by the same organization, making it a great developmental league for players who wish to be seen by MLS next coaches and scouts.

U.S Youth Soccer National League 64

The U.S youth soccer national league 64 was created in Fall 2022 and it is a 10 month long competition. It is made up of 64 elite youth soccer boys and girls teams from the age groups of U13 through U19.

National Premier Leagues (NPL)

Established by U.S club soccer in 2011, the National Premier League is the top rated local/regional league in U.S youth soccer that allows the best teams from one NPL league to play the top teams from another NPL league.

The National Premier League (NPL) is a cornerstone of U.S. youth soccer, designed to elevate competition while prioritizing player development. Unified under one national platform, the NPL provides top clubs with consistent, high-level games and opportunities for player evaluation by U.S. Soccer National Staff.

Coast Soccer League

The Coast Soccer League “operates an “open” system to ensure every team competes at the level they have earned. From the first entry into competitive play, up to elite level soccer, CSL provides each team with the opportunity to succeed.” This is one of the first forms of competitive soccer for many players in the United States.

American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO)

AYSO is the oldest national youth soccer program in the country. The main goal of AYSO is to allow everyone to have the opportunity to play the beautiful game. AYSO is usually a type of recreational soccer league, but some of the highest level teams in this league may be more competitive than others.

U.S Youth Soccer Image by Source

Frequently Asked Questions

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, watch soccer documentaries, as well as some movies, tv shows, and anime.

What is the best youth soccer training equipment?

The best youth soccer training equipment includes soccer balls, smart soccer balls, cleats, shin guards, soccer shorts, soccer goals, soccer rebounders, and soccer cameras.

Where to find coaching and educational resources for U.S Youth soccer?

To learn more about U.S youth soccer, and U.S soccer in general, check out these website:


In conclusion, the U.S youth soccer system has changed and developed a lot throughout the years, which is why it is important for soccer players, parents, and coaches to understand the youth soccer pyramid system.

The fastest way to climb the ranks is to understand the ranks first so that you can create a plan of how to reach the top level. In this blog, I covered all of the basic information you need to know about U.S youth soccer.

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