If you’re new to the travel or recreational soccer scene, your child may have played in a league or tournament sanctioned by US Club Soccer. But many newcomers to the youth soccer community aren’t familiar with the various organizations that manage the game at the state, regional and national levels.
So, what exactly is US Club Soccer, and what do they do?
Founded in 2001, US Club Soccer is one of the largest youth sports governing bodies in the country. As of 2020, US Club Soccer is home to more than 500,000 total players across the recreational and competitive levels. Over 70,000 total staff members work within US Club-affiliated organizations across the country.
US Club Soccer’s vision is to be the finest soccer organization in America and an integral part of U.S. National Team success. The organization’s philosophy is that clubs are the primary vehicle for player development, with a motto of “soccer people making soccer decisions.”
Thus, there is a focus on flexibility in areas such as roster rules, with features such as a Club Pass system and an ability for teams to easily travel across state lines for competition. US Club Soccer also aims to create a “members for life” culture within its clubs, where players can be developed from childhood through the adult level.
US Club Soccer is sponsored by Nike, Inc. and supported by LaLiga, the top professional league in Spain and home of super clubs such as FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, through a technical partnership.
US Club Soccer boasts a membership from all 50 states, and the organization sanctions well over 400 tournaments per year. Its headquarters are split between two locations in South Carolina: an executive office in Charleston and administrative office in Myrtle Beach.
US Club Soccer bylaws stipulate that only individuals with significant, competitive soccer experience can qualify for a Board of Directors seat. Members must have at least five years of coaching experience at a competitive level and at least a U.S. Soccer “B” coaching license or its international equivalent. The US Club Soccer Board of Directors currently includes an accomplished group of soccer professionals, including those with World Cup titles, Olympic gold medals and college and club championships.
Anchored by Players First™ and its five pillars of Club Development, Coaching Development, Player Development, Parent Engagement & Education and Player Health & Safety, US Club Soccer offers registration, league and cup-based competition platforms, player identification and a variety of other programming, resources and services.
Main Competition Platforms
US Club Soccer’s offerings include league and cup-based competition, player identification and development programs, and additional programs geared toward club support and coaching education.
National Premier Leagues (NPL)
League-based programming includes the National Premier Leagues (NPL), a collection of US Club Soccer’s top leagues from around the country. Champions of the various NPLs advance to the NPL Finals, the organization’s annual league-based national championship competition. In addition, US Club Soccer sanctions local competitive leagues, recreational programs and adult leagues.
US Club Soccer collaborates with the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) for a boys’ national competition platform as well. Over the past several years, the platform has been titled the Elite National Premier League (ENPL), which has featured 16 qualifying NPLs and Boys ECNL Conferences around the country. Following major growth in the NPL and ECNL Boys over the past couple seasons, US Club Soccer is expected to announce a newly-revamped platform as the leagues continue their collaboration into 2021.
The National Cup is US Club Soccer’s cup-based competition open to members. Qualifying 13-U through 18/19-U teams from National Cup Regionals and qualifying state cups advance to the National Cup Finals. National Cup Regionals are open to 12-U through 18/19-U boys and girls age groups in the Mid-Atlantic and West Regionals, while the other Regionals – Midwest, Northwest, South Central and Southeast – feature 13-U through 18/19-U divisions.
Established in 2004, the id2 National Identification and Development Program gives all players (regardless of affiliation) a chance to be identified, developed and scouted for inclusion in the U.S. national team programs. There is no cost to players to be scouted, recommended or to participate in camps.
A national scouting and recommendation program is used to form a pool from which top players are invited to attend an id2 Training Camp. At the camp, players work with some of the nation’s best coaches, play with and against some of the nation’s best players in their age group, and are scouted by on-site U.S. Soccer staff. In addition to on-field sessions, the camps feature guest speakers, lectures/classroom sessions and other offerings.
The id2 platform also features annual international trips for its National Selection teams, which include tours of the most historic soccer sites in the world, along with training and competition against youth academy teams from top European clubs.
Player Development Programs (PDPs)
Another part of the id2 Program, PDPs are regional identification and development events centered on the National Premier Leagues. Players (both in the NPL and with nearby clubs) receive invitations based on performance and recommendations, and once at a PDP event, they receive coaching and can play in front of U.S. Soccer scouts.
Both the id2 Program and Player Development Programs are Olympic Development Programs as approved by the United States Olympic Committee and U.S. Soccer Federation.
Players First is a branded, holistic club soccer experience for parents and players, which emphasizes the development of each individual to his or her full potential, and helps parents make better choices about where their children should play. It is known as US Club Soccer’s “good housekeeping seal” for youth soccer organizations across the country.
Players First licensing is led by a robust application, in which clubs prove their commitment to Players First, its philosophy and the five pillars: Club Development, Coaching Development, Player Development, Parent Engagement & Education and Player Health & Safety.
In particular, Player Health & Safety is the emphasis, as US Club Soccer prides itself on fostering the safest environment for players in youth sports. US Club Soccer has stringent requirements for all staff registration/eligibility and also provides a variety of safety-related resources to members.
When clubs apply, they’re extensively reviewed by US Club Soccer. Then, they’re either approved in the same term of which they applied, or their applications remain open for up to six months to allow them to meet any additional requirements necessary for licensing. About one-third of all approved clubs have been accepted after their initial evaluations required them to raise standards. Currently, over 100 clubs from 29 states have earned acceptance.
LaLiga, the world-renowned professional league in Spain featuring top clubs like FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, entered into a long-term technical partnership with US Club Soccer, beginning in 2015 with the launch of Players First. Introduced by Nike, the LaLiga partnership focuses on strategic development and resource support for the club, player and coach development pillars of Players First.
In February 2019, US Club Soccer and LaLiga North America announced an expansion of their partnership. The long-term extension continues a valuable relationship in youth soccer that has provided various coaching education resources to the American game, directly educating thousands of coaches and impacting even more players. It also points to LaLiga North America’s commitment to growing soccer in the U.S.
LaLiga North America is a joint venture between LaLiga and Relevent Sports, which serves as the exclusive representation of LaLiga in the U.S. and Canada for all business and development activities. LaLiga North America provides US Club Soccer and Players First clubs with a training curriculum, which helps create a better learning environment and day-to-day experience to enhance the development of all players.
US Club Soccer works with member leagues and clubs to host LaLiga Formation Methodology coaching education courses, along with the LaLiga Virtual Training Series by Verizon and LaLiga Master classes, featuring player development experts from LaLiga and guest sessions from LaLiga clubs.