United States Soccer Leagues System


The United States Soccer Leagues System has been changing on a regular basis.  These changes are not due to promotion and relegation, the way most of the world of “football” operates, rather it is based on redistribution from the governing body of US Soccer (United States Soccer Federation aka USSF).   The USSF is also commonly known as US Soccer.

USSF oversees the various leagues and is responsible for governance.  The individual leagues are responsible for overseeing individual teams.

MLS logos of clubs from United States Soccer Leagues

Although promotion and relegation do not formally exist here in the US, some clubs have voluntarily relegated themselves.  There are several reasons by this may be a good move for a club.  Operating costs are usually lower, and for clubs who have strong Academies, it may better allow movement to the first team within their own club system.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) oversees soccer at the college level.

Men’s Soccer Leagues

There are currently three (3) levels of professional men’s soccer in the US.  

The first tier is Major League Soccer (MLS).   In 2023, there will be 29 clubs in the MLS.  Fifteen (15) of these are teams in the Eastern Conference.  The remaining fourteen (14) are in the Western Conference.

USL Championship League (USL Championship) is the second tier of professional soccer in the US. There will be twenty – four (24) clubs playing in this league in 2023.  This is made up of two conferences; Eastern and Western.

There are three (3) separate leagues in the third tier of professional soccer in the US. USL League One, National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) and MLS Next Pro.  There are fourteen (14) teams in USL League One, nine (9) teams in NISA and twenty-eight28 clubs in MLS Next Pro.

Amateur Soccer for Men

The United Premier Soccer League started in 2011 with only ten teams. Today, it boasts over 450. The UPSL teams are separated out by geography. They have localized divisions within separate conferences based on a number of geographical factors such as population and distance. In some instances, there may be more than one club operating inside a specific geographical region. There are two distinct divisions, Premier and Division One.

The USSF only sanctions one group to play and oversee amateur soccer. This is the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA). There are several leagues beneath this including:

  • United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League (PDL). The PDL is the league that seeks to develop players to professional soccer in the United States, Bermuda and Canada. It t is the top amateur level of soccer competition. There are sixty-two (62) teams who make this up. The fourth tier of competition in the United States Soccer Leagues Structure is the PDL.
  • National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). The National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) is one of the largest men’s soccer leagues in the US. It boasts over ninety (90) individual teams throughout the country which compete against each other. The NPSL is a part of the USASA, and through this relationship is also connected with the USSF.
  • USAA Elite Amateur Leagues. This is a group of state and regional level amateur soccer leagues. The United States Adult Soccer Association recognizes them. They are considered to be at a higher level than the “regular state leagues.” This is not a proven pathway to playing professionally.
  • US Adult Soccer Association (USASA). Governing body of adult soccer.
  • Club Soccer Promotes growth and development of clubs throughout the United States.

United States Soccer Leagues -Women’s Soccer

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) started in November of 2012.  The US Soccer Federation, Mexican Football Federation and the Canadian Soccer Association all support the NWSL.

Women playing soccer. NWSL United States Soccer Leagues

The top tier of women’s soccer is the National Women’s Soccer League. (NWSL).  Twelve teams make it up.

The United Soccer League is also starting a second division professional women’s league that will officially start playing in 2023.  The USL Superleague will be its name. The first games will kick off in August of 2024. The schedule will be in alignment with the women’s soccer calendar at the international level.

The USL Super League is a new professional women’s soccer league that will align with the international women’s soccer calendar and kick off in August 2024. The USL Super League will lead the way for the youth-to-pro pathway from the women’s side. There is already a Super Y League, the USL Academy and the upcoming pre-professional USL W League.

The USL W-league for women will be starting by 2024.  This should create another pathway for young players to transition from youth clubs to pro teams.

The Super League is hoping to standardize compensation rates so they are equal to what the men’s USL pro leagues pay.  The goal is to continue building women’s soccer and holding the US position as world leaders in the sport.

To learn more about girls’s soccer, visit our sister site Soccer Talented that is exclusively for young women.

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