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United Soccer League (USL) Explained

USL Structure

The United Soccer League, together with NISA, makes up the entire professional lower leagues in the United States. On the men’s side of things, there are 3 different divisions in the USL: Championship, League One, and League Two.

The USL Championship represents the 2nd division in the United States soccer pyramid and is sanctioned by USSF.

Men's Competitions

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The USL Championship is regarded as the 2nd tier in the United States soccer pyramid. There is no promotion and relegation with the MLS, as the two league systems are entirely separate.

USL League One and NISA are both widely regarded to be division 3 in the United States Competition Pyramid.

USL League Two, formerly known as PDL, is the premier development league in the United States. USL League Two is part of the 4th tier in American soccer because this league is not a professional league, and. divisions 1-3 are considered professional leagues under USSF.

Women's Competitions

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The USL also features women’s competitions. The USL W League is considered to be third in the United States Women’s soccer pyramid as a "pre-professional" or developmental league.

USL W League is set to kick off in 2022.

Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Qualification

The USL’s domestic cup is the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, the United States’ oldest and most prestigious cup competition. Teams from the USL Championship and USL League One automatically qualify to compete for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup in a single-elimination cup format.

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Path to CONCACAF Champions League

USL Championship and USL League One teams automatically qualify for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. There is an opportunity for USL clubs to earn a CONCACAF Champions League berth by winning the US Open Cup. However, USL clubs face stiff opposition by MLS teams in the cup, and the cup has not been won by a single non-MLS team since 1999 when the Rochester Rhinos lifted the cup.

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Financial Critcisms

There are many critics of the USL’s financial structure as it does not promote wage growth or incentivizes competition through prize money.

Right now, winning the USL Championship does not give any prize money to the players that won it.

Additionally, the organization recently declined a petition to raise the minimum salary of players to $20,000/season.

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