There are so many soccer leagues. A soccer parent’s head can easily start spinning when simply thinking about all of the different leagues.

Some of these leagues overlap. An individual team could compete in two or even three leagues over the course of the year. When I was speaking to a mom of a 14-year-old player recently, I asked “What league does she play in?”

The mom replied, “I don’t even know. I just go wherever I’m told.” (Turns out, the girl’s team was in three different leagues!)

One of these leagues is “NATIONAL LEAGUE.” What is National League? If you already know the answer, you can stop reading. If you’re one of those soccer parents who hears about all of these leagues but doesn’t really understand, this is for you.

Competitive youth soccer in the USA is covered by a few different umbrellas. USSDA, US Club Soccer and USYS (US Youth Soccer).

The DA is run directly by US Soccer and is for elite-level players. It is not a recreational soccer program.

US Club Soccer fields competitive leagues only. NPL and ECNL, for example, play under the US Club Soccer umbrella.

USYS has a broader reach, fielding leagues ranging from recreational to highly competitive. Cal South and all of their leagues, play under the USYS umbrella.

All three of these organizations have their own “National Champions,” which is another issue for another time. For now, let’s focus on US Youth Soccer.

Because USYS covers such a broad range of soccer, National League is meant to bring together the top competitive teams nation-wide. National League is for U14-U19, and games are played twice a year. One weekend is played in the east in the Fall, usually North Carolina. One weekend is played in the west in the spring, usually Las Vegas.

Teams can qualify or apply to be part of National League. The travel time and expense is significant, and the competition level is very high. College coaches are often seen in large numbers on the sidelines of National League games.

Usually teams have to get to the US Youth Soccer National Championships by winning their region’s “National Cup” then “Regionals.” The teams that win National League get direct tickets straight to the USYS National Championships (held every summer in Texas), even if they don’t win their National Cup or Regionals.

Up until last year, there were also “Regional Leagues.” Southern California has the very popular “CRL” (California Regional League). Every other region in the country also ran their own Regional League. Teams that win these leagues get a direct ticket to their regional championships without having to win their National Cup tournament.

USYS decided to re-brand “Regional Leagues” as “National League CONFERENCES.” The foundation of these regional leagues remains the same: The top teams in the region come together a few weekends every year for high-level competition. The winner of each age division gets a direct ticket to the regional championship, where they’re joined by the winners of each region’s National Cup tournament. Instead of being called “Regional League,” each league is now called a “National League Conference.”

Cal South had done such a great job creating and branding their Regional League (CRL), National League decided to let them keep their name, which is why you see this:

Everywhere else in the country, you see National League conferences like this:

If you see a team playing in a “National League Conference,” they’re playing in a US Youth Soccer Regional League, trying to win a spot in the regional championships.

If you see a team playing in “National League,” (not a “conference”) they’re playing in the original NATIONAL LEAGUE, trying to win a ticket directly to the national championships.

There are so many other confusing and convoluted aspects of competitive youth soccer in America. That is, however, a basic view of “National League” for you, if you’ve ever found yourself asking “What on Earth is ‘National League?'”