This post provides the full list of professional soccer leagues In the United States of America. 10 leagues got the official nod from the United States Soccer Federation (often called USSF or U.S. Soccer).
These leagues cover both fully pro and semi-pro soccer. That said, here is the complete list of professional soccer leagues In the US:
- Major League Soccer
- USL Championship
- USL League One
- USL League Two
- National Independent Soccer Association
- National Women’s Soccer League
- USL Super League
- USL W League
- MLS Next Pro
- National Premier Soccer League
Let’s dive right in.
1. Major League Soccer
Major League Soccer, often simply called MLS designates the highest level of soccer In the U.S. It is the top-tier professional league In the US where the best teams and players compete.
As of 2023, 29 teams compete In the MLS, with 26 in the U.S. and 3 in Canada. The journey started with the North American Soccer League (NASL) in the late ’60s, and then MLS came in 1993, due to the U.S. hosting the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
It kicked off its first season in 1996 with ten teams. However, there were some rough patches in the early days, but MLS has come a long way.
Nowadays, it’s a profitable league with strong followers. In fact, it ranks fourth in average attendance among major pro sports leagues in the U.S. and Canada, just behind the NFL, MLB, and CFL.
The MLS season runs from late February to mid-October, with each team playing 34 games. The team that achieves the most outstanding record is awarded the Supporters’ Shield.
Then, the top 18 teams enter the playoffs, leading up to the grand finale, the MLS Cup. Unlike many other soccer leagues, MLS is special in that it operates as a single entity.
Each team is owned by the league and managed by its investors. There’s no promotion or relegation system there. Some notable teams in MLS history include the LA Galaxy, D.C. United, and the current champs.
Los Angeles FC. The Galaxy has the most MLS Cups, while both the Galaxy and D.C. United share the record for Supporters’ Shields.
2. USL Championship
The USL Championship (USLC) has been officially recognized by the United States Soccer Federation as a Division II league since 2017.
The league was born from a merger of two divisions, the USL First (USL-1) and Second Divisions (USL-2), after the 2010 season.
This merger came about because neither the USL-1 nor the North American Soccer League (NASL) got Division II approval from the USSF.
Instead, they formed the temporary USSF Division 2 Pro League. The people behind the scenes at the United Soccer League believed that joining forces would make the league stronger.
They aimed for stability, more fans, and a boost to soccer’s professional development across the United States and Canada.
3. USL League One
USL League One (USL1) professional men’s soccer league kicked off its first season in 2019 and is part of the United Soccer League family, the same group behind the Division II USL Championship and other soccer leagues.
12 teams compete In USL1 out of 32 regular-season games, followed by exciting playoff action. In 2017, when the USL Championship was granted Division II status, it left a gap in American soccer’s third tier.
From 1996 to 2009, the United Soccer League managed lower-division leagues under different names. But in 2017, the USL announced plans to launch a new third-division league with more relaxed requirements compared to Division II.
This new league was initially called USL Division III (USL D3). USL1 set its sights on cities with populations ranging from 150,000 to one million, mostly targeting areas without professional soccer teams.
After a nationwide search, they unveiled their founding members, including teams like Tormenta FC, Greenville Triumph SC, and Madison, Wisconsin.
The league filed for Division III status in 2018 and got the green light to start in 2019. The first game took place in March 2019, and since then, it’s been a platform for young talents to display their skills.
Over the years, USL1 has seen expansion with teams from Omaha, Nebraska, joining in 2020, and reserve teams from MLS clubs like the New England Revolution and Inter Miami CF entering the league in 2020.
There have been some changes along the way, like Lansing Ignite FC folding after one season and others like Fort Lauderdale CF and Orlando City B joining MLS Next Pro.
In 2023, USL1 continued to grow with new teams like Lexington Sporting Club and Santa Barbara Sky FC joining the ranks.
4. USL League Two
USL League Two (USL2) is a semi-professional developmental soccer league, and it’s a part of the U.S. soccer league system.
122 teams currently compete In USL2. These teams are spread across eighteen regional divisions, and grouped into four conferences.
Ballard FC won the title in 2023, defeating Lionsbridge FC 2–1 in the USL League Two Championship game on August 5, 2023.
USL2 has four conferences: Eastern, Central, Southern, and Western. Each of these conferences has its divisions. The league starts in May and continues through July, with playoffs happening in July and August.
During the regular season, every team plays between 10 to 14 games, depending on the size of their division. Some games are at home, and some are away.
Division winners and the best second-place finishers from each conference get a ticket to the conference quarter-finals.
The playoff format is all about single-match elimination, so there’s no room for errors. The conference winners then host a four-team conference championship weekend.
The four conference champs battle it out in the national semifinals and the grand finale, the league Championship, which takes place at the home of the higher-seeded team.
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5. National Independent Soccer Association (NISA)
National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) is the underdog of professional men’s soccer in the United States. NISA came to live in 2019, and it’s in the third tier of American soccer.
At first, NISA had a unique schedule, playing from fall to spring with a winter break. But they later switched to the more common spring-to-fall schedule that you see in the U.S.
NISA was announced in 2017, with plans to start in 2018. They aimed for 8 to 12 teams initially, with dreams of introducing a promotion/relegation system, something not common in U.S. soccer.
Unfortunately, those plans were shelved when the North American Soccer League (NASL) stopped operating. Then, there were some ups and downs.
Co-founder Jack Cummins passed away in 2018, and co-founder Peter Wilt left to start up another team. But NISA kept pushing forward.
In 2019, they applied with the United States Soccer Federation to be recognized as a Division III league. They got provisional approval in February 2019.
However, there were some bumps along the way, including delays to their start date. Over time, NISA welcomed new teams like Miami FC, California United Strikers FC, and others.
The league’s inaugural season finally kicked off in August 2019 but had to deal with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. NISA didn’t just focus on pro soccer, they also worked to develop the amateur and semi-pro game.
They introduced the NISA Independent Cup, where member teams faced off against high-quality amateur and independent professional sides.
To support player development and club growth, NISA formed affiliations with amateur leagues like the Gulf Coast Premier League, Midwest Premier League, Eastern Premier Soccer League, and the Mountain Premier League.
6. National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL)
The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is like the Major League Soccer (MLS) for the ladies but with unique differences. The NWSL is owned by the teams themselves, and its headquarters is located In New York City.
The NWSL made its debut in 2012, following in the footsteps of Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), and the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA).
The league officially began play in 2013 with eight teams, including former WPS members like Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, Sky Blue FC, and Western New York Flash. Then, it expanded to 12 teams across the United States In 2022.
Teams compete for the NWSL Champions title in the playoffs, the NWSL Shield for the best regular season record, and the NWSL Challenge Cup, an exciting annual league cup tournament that started in 2020.
The NWSL season takes place from March through October. Alongside the regular season, the NWSL Challenge Cup is an extra excitement from April to September.
The playoff tournament becomes the focal point after the regular season, wrapping up on November 11th. Each team plays 22 regular-season games in a home-and-away format.
The NWSL Shield goes to the team with the highest point total after the regular season. Additionally, the playoffs include the six teams with the most points, with the top two teams receiving a first-round bye.
These higher-seeded teams host single knockout matches, with the semifinal winners battling it out in the championship final held at a predetermined location.
The current playoff format was introduced in 2021, before that, it was a clash between four teams. The number of regular-season matches has varied between 20 and 24 in the past. In 2021 and 2022, the Challenge Cup shifted to being a preseason tournament.
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7. USL Super League
This Division I professional women’s soccer league in the United States is owned and operated by the United Soccer League. The USLS was unveiled on September 21, 2021, marking a significant milestone in women’s soccer.
Alongside the USL W League, a pre-professional league that began in 2022, the USLS aims to create a comprehensive route for women’s soccer talent.
To lead the charge, Amanda Vandervort, former Chief Women’s Football Officer for FIFPro (the global player’s association), was appointed League President on October 12, 2021.
Starting in May 2022, the Super League is planning to align its schedule with the “women’s international soccer calendar,” with seasons running from August to June.
They’re even planning a mid-season break to avoid the harshest winter weather conditions. The league’s goal is to field 12 teams in its inaugural season.
Exciting developments are on the horizon, with clubs like D.C. United, Santa Barbara Sky, USL NOLA, JAXUSL, Memphis 901 FC, Real Central New Jersey, and Lane United FC showing interest in joining the USLS.
On May 16, 2023, the USL Super League revealed the first eight teams participating in their inaugural season, with five more to follow once stadium projects are confirmed.
Interestingly, they’ve set their sights on launching as a top-division league, aiming to raise the bar for teams, staff, and standards, positioning themselves alongside the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).
8. USL W League
The USL W League (USLW) is a pre-professional women’s soccer league that kicked off in May 2022, and it’s the brainchild of the United Soccer League.
The USLW brings back the spirit of the USL W-League, a similar league that graced the soccer scene from 1995 to 2015.
It’s all about creating opportunities for women’s soccer to grow the league was unveiled on June 8, 2021, by the United Soccer League, and it started with eight founding clubs.
At the beginning, they promised an inaugural season with at least 30 teams, and they’re on a mission to make that happen when it began on May 6, 2022, it featured 44 teams.
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9. MLS Next Pro
MLS Next Pro (MLSNP) is a men’s professional soccer league and is the third tier of the United States soccer league system.
This league burst onto the scene in 2022 with 21 teams and has since expanded to encompass 27 reserve sides of MLS clubs. On June 21, 2021, they announced the creation of MLS Next Pro, and it didn’t take long to make it a reality.
They applied for Division III professional league status, putting it in the same category as USL League One and the National Independent Soccer Association.
The inaugural match was played on March 25, 2022, and the league even introduced some unique rules to keep things interesting, like settling draws with penalty shootouts and allowing concussion substitutions.
With a season that runs from spring to fall, featuring 24 regular-season games and an 8-team playoff tournament, MLS Next Pro is the proving ground for tomorrow’s soccer legends.
Unlike its big brother, Major League Soccer, MLSNP doesn’t have a salary cap, giving clubs more flexibility in building their rosters.
10. National Premier Soccer League
The National Premier Soccer League, known as NPSL is a semi-professional league where you’ll find a mix of teams, some with paid players and others playing purely for the love of the game.
NPSL is the successor to the Men’s Premier Soccer League, which started as a regional league in the Western United States but has now expanded, welcoming teams from 29 different states.
When it comes to competition, NPSL divides the game into four distinct regions: Northeast, South, Midwest, and West. Within these regions, you’ll find conferences with varying numbers of teams.
The regular season usually kicks off in May and runs through July, although the West Region prefers to start a bit earlier in late March or early April.
Many are finding NPSL even more exciting due to its automatic berths in the U.S. Open Cup, where teams have a shot at glory and a ticket to the CONCACAF Champions League.
Pataka is a consistent and avid follower of the round leather game. He communicates his passion by editing soccer posts for various soccer platforms.