United Soccer League Unveils Women's Pathway
Tampa, Fla. (January 10, 2023) – The United Soccer League today unveiled Step Up: The Bold Next Phase in the USL’s Women’s Soccer Strategy, an evolution of the USL’s ongoing women’s soccer strategy that is designed to take the women’s game in America to the next level by maximizing player potential, delivering a world-class fan experience, and growing the business of USL clubs.
To ensure the most solid foundation for a positive and sustainable impact, the USL Super League, which was originally scheduled to begin in 2023, will now kick off in August 2024. As previously announced, the Super League will play on the international match calendar from fall to summer.
Developed over the past two years,Step Up provides a blueprint for the USL to build, operate, and grow the most comprehensive and powerful ecosystem in women’s soccer. It lays out a clear pathway from youth to professional, including the launch of the professional USL Super League, continued expansion of the pre-professional USL W League, and the establishment and growth of the USL Academy for girls.
“Our vision is to be a global leader in women’s soccer on and off the field,” said USL CEO Alec Papadakis. “The fully integrated women’s pathway we are building is transformational for the USL and for the game, providing thousands of additional opportunities for players, coaches, referees, executives, partners, and fans in professional women’s soccer and all the way through the American soccer pyramid. We have the committed ownership, infrastructure, and expertise to build a viable long-term business that brings the excitement of women’s soccer to more fans and more communities across the country.”
The strategic pillars of Step Up are designed with a long-term vision for both on-field competitive success and off-field business performance.
- Build a comprehensive, clear, and aspirational pathway for all those who play, work in, and watch women’s soccer.
- Ensure the long-term sustainability of the USL women’s soccer ecosystem.
- Support the existing women’s soccer landscape while accelerating growth in new areas.
“Step Up is a collaborative effort, built with stakeholders throughout the soccer industry to develop one of the most impactful women’s soccer ecosystems in the world and to help shape the future of soccer in America,” said Amanda Vandervort, President of the USL Super League. “It states our ambitions clearly and puts a stake in the ground for what we believe in – that the women’s game can and will benefit from more professionalization, more committed clubs, and more opportunities for women players and coaches at all levels.”
Building up to the USL Super League
The pinnacle of the USL’s women’s soccer pathway is the previously announced USL Super League, which will kick off in August 2024. This provides the USL and clubs the time to finalize the stadiums, infrastructure, and commercial platforms for long-term business success, and provides a strategic runway to enhance additional platforms, including the USL W League and USL Academy for girls.
“Our ambition is to be a leader in the women’s game,” said Vandervort. “The USL Super League is a core element of our strategy that will significantly grow the opportunities in women’s professional soccer in America. We want to have the biggest impact possible, and we are intent on taking the time to make sure the league and our clubs are set up for long-term success.”
The Super League is expected to begin announcing its founding clubs in the coming months.
Laying the Foundation of the Pathway
The Step Up strategy builds upon several integral women’s soccer initiatives previously introduced by the USL. These include the pre-professional USL W League and a USL Academy pilot program for girls. Both properties are projected to see significant growth in the coming years.
- USL W League: Launched with 44 clubs in 2022, increasing to 65 clubs stretching from coast-to-coast in 2023, with a target of 100 by 2026.
- USL Academy Cup and League: After launching a pilot girls’ division in 2021, the USL Academy is seeing significant growth, expanding to 38 teams participating in the 2023 USL Academy Cup. The new USL Academy League will also feature up to six girls’ divisions in 2023 and increase to more than 12 divisions by 2026.
In its first season, the W League proved an important platform for many female players to continue their development. Nearly 20 players who featured in the 2022 W League season have since signed professional contracts both domestically and internationally.
“The foundation of the pathway is just as vital as the top of the pyramid,” Vandervort said. "We believe we can help fill existing voids in the development of talented players. The W League is giving more players a chance to play for a longer duration in competitive environments, and the Academy will develop young elite players not only for college, but also for a potential pro career if they choose to pursue that.
In the end, it is all part of the pathway. That’s what we’re building. And we believe it will positively and significantly impact the women’s game. Which is what we are all working for every day.”