Premier Development League

Premier Development League
Founded 1995 (1995)
Country United States
Other club(s) from Canada
Confederation U.S. Soccer
Divisions 11
Number of teams 74
Level on pyramid 4 (US) (unofficial)
4 (CAN) (unofficial)
Domestic cup(s) U.S. Open Cup
Current champions Calgary Foothills FC
Most championships Michigan Bucks (3 titles)
2018 PDL season

The Premier Development League (commonly known as the PDL) is a development soccer league sponsored by United Soccer Leagues in the United States and Canada, forming part of the United States soccer league system. The league has 74 teams competing in four conferences, split into eleven regional divisions. Unofficially, it is considered to be the fourth tier of competition, behind Major League Soccer, the United Soccer League, and the vacant third division. With USL Pro re-branding as the United Soccer League in February 2015, the PDL dropped the "USL" descriptor from their name, simply operating as the "Premier Development League". PDL is headquartered in Tampa, Florida.[1]

The Calgary Foothills FC are the current PDL champions, having defeated the Reading United AC 4–2 in extra time in the 2018 PDL Championship game on August 4, 2018.

Competition format

The Premier Development League, as of the 2018 season, is divided into 4 conferences (Eastern, Southern, Central, and Western), comprising 11 divisions. The league season runs from May through July, with the playoffs decided through July and August. All teams play a balanced regular season schedule of 14 games, seven home and seven away, within their division. In conferences with two divisions, the division winner and runner-up advance to the conference semifinals, while in conferences with three divisions, the division winners and best second-place finisher advances to the conference semifinals.


The PDL Playoffs see all regular season division champions advance into the conference semifinals, with both runner-ups in two-division conferences and the lone best runner-up in three-division conferences also advancing to that round. All matches in the PDL Playoffs are played in single match elimination format, with the higher seeded team hosting the match, until a Champion is decided at a predetermined neutral location for a playoff weekend, in which both the semifinal and Championship matches are played.



In 1995 the United States Interregional Soccer League (USISL) changed its name to the United States International Soccer League, and split into two leagues, one professional (the 'Professional League', which ultimately became the USL Second Division) and one amateur (the 'Premier League'). The purpose for the split was to expand into and improve the soccer capabilities of many urban areas throughout the United States and Canada, while offering current college soccer players the opportunity to continue playing during the summer months without losing their college eligibility. The inaugural season of the new USISL Premier League featured 27 teams, and the Richmond Kickers won the first title, beating the Cocoa Expos 3–1 in the championship game.[2] Gabe Jones of the Austin Lone Stars was the league's top scorer and MVP.

The United States International Soccer League changed its name again in 1996, to the United Systems of Independent Soccer Leagues, and before the season, there was substantial movement of teams between the Pro League, the Premier League and the newly created Select League (which would later merge with the A-League, and eventually become the USL First Division). The Premier League grew to 34 teams in its second year, with the Central Coast Roadrunners from San Luis Obispo, California beating the San Francisco Bay Seals in the championship game to take the title.[3] Pasi Kinturi of the Nashville Metros was the league's top scorer and MVP.

The Premier League renamed itself the Premier Development Soccer League (PDSL) in 1997, and the Central Coast Roadrunners repeated as national champions, the first team to do so, beating the Cocoa Expos in the PDSL championship game.[4] Lester Felicia of the Jackson Chargers was the league's MVP, while Rodrigo Costa of the Detroit Dynamite was the leading scorer and the league's Rookie of the Year, tallying 21 goals and 2 assists for 44 points. In 1998 the PDSL took to the field with 33 teams, including four associate members from the Pacific Coast Soccer League who played shortened schedules after their PCSL season was over. In the championship game the San Gabriel Valley Highlanders upset regular season champions Jackson Chargers 3–2, taking the trophy to California for the third straight year. Rodrigo Costa of the Detroit Dynamite was the league MVP, Boniventure Manati of the Jackson Chargers was the league's top scorer, and a young striker by the name of Brian Ching from the Spokane Shadow was named Rookie of the Year.[5]

In 1999 the umbrella USISL changed its name to the United Soccer Leagues, and the Premier Development Soccer League dropped the 'soccer' part of its name and became known as the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League, or PDL. The league took in several teams from the D3Pro league, expanding to 42 teams in six divisions. Expansion franchise Chicago Sockers ultimately won the league, beating Spokane Shadow 3–1 for the title in a tight championship game. Fabio Eidenwein of the Sioux City Breeze was named League MVP and was the top scorer, with 20 goals.[6]


The PDL expanded by a further eight franchises in 2000, and the Chicago Sockers won their second straight title, beating the Mid-Michigan Bucks in a close 1–0 championship game. The single goal was scored by Rodrigo Costa who, having received a pass from teammate Hamid Mehreioskouei, chipped Bucks goalkeeper Eric Pogue from 18 yards through a crowded penalty area. Fernando Salazar of the Los Angeles-based San Fernando Valley Heroes was the league's MVP, while his teammate Arshak Abyanli took the honors as top goalscorer.[7]

The league grew from 41 to 44 teams in 2001 through the usual mix of relegation from D3Pro, teams folding and new franchises being added. In the semi-finals, the Westchester Flames defeated Sioux Falls Spitfire 5–1 and Calgary Storm defeated Des Moines Menace 2–1; in the final, Westchester defeated Calgary 3–1 to take their first league title.[8] Des Moines and Chicago Fire Reserves dominated the 2002 regular season, but both teams stuttered in the playoffs; the PDL final saw the Cape Cod Crusaders defeating the Boulder Rapids Reserve 2–1 to bring the title to the Northeast for the second year in a row. 2002 also saw the debut of the soon-to-be PDL legend, Tomas Boltnar of Des Moines Menace, who secured an unprecedented triple-crown of PDL MVP, Top Scorer and Rookie of the Year.[9]

The mid-2000s was a period of steady growth and consolidation for the PDL. A TV agreement with Fox Soccer Channel saw the PDL Championship game being broadcast live on national television in North America for the first time, and professional teams began investing in the league by adding U-23 development sides as an addition to their senior rosters. Cape Cod repeated as PDL champs in 2003, beating the Chicago Fire Reserves in the final[10] (and despite the presence of Jürgen Klinsmann playing for Orange County Blue Star), while 2004 saw the title head to Florida for the first time as the Central Florida Kraze overcame perennial bridesmaids Boulder Rapids Reserve.[11]

Des Moines Menace took the PDL Championship trophy back to Iowa in 2005 after beating the El Paso Patriots 6–5 on penalty kicks, following a 0–0 draw in the PDL Championship game.[12][13] 2006 saw the beginning of two seasons of dominance for two teams: the Michigan Bucks and the Laredo Heat. Both teams made the PDL Final in 2006 and 2007, with the Bucks emerging victorious in '06 with a 2–1 win thanks to goals by Kenny Uzoigwe and Ty Shipalane,[14][15] only for Laredo to get their revenge the following year with an epic penalty kicks win after a 0–0 tie in regulation time.

Laredo became the first team to make three consecutive PDL championship games in 2008, but fell at the final hurdle to Thunder Bay Chill, who became the first ever Canadian side to win the PDL following their 4–1 penalty shootout victory.[16] The PDL had grown to 68 teams by 2009, and to reflect their growing reputation, introduced a new scheme called PDL-Pro, whereby certain teams would be allowed to act as professional clubs, paying players, while still adhering to NCAA collegiate eligibility rules, and the USL's own age restriction policy. Ventura County Fusion returned the PDL title to Southern California for the first time in over a decade with a stoppage-time victory over Chicago Fire Premier, and in doing so became the lowest-seeded team to claim the national title.[17]

Locations of USL PDL franchises. Blue = Eastern Conference, Orange = Southern, Green = Central, Red = Western


The 2010s began with a record, as the Portland Timbers U23s ended the season as national champions, beating Thunder Bay Chill 4–1 in the 2010 PDL Championship game.[18] The Timbers also had the best regular season record, winning all their 16 games, scoring 53 goals and conceding just six along the way. In doing so the Timbers became the first team to post a perfect PDL regular season record since the Jackson Chargers in 1998,[19] the first regular season champion to win the playoffs since the Central Coast Roadrunners in 1996, and the first team in PDL history to go through an entire PDL regular season and playoff campaign without posting a loss or a tie. Portland Timbers U23s striker Brent Richards was named League MVP and Rookie of the Year for his stellar campaign with the national champions. Players from Canadian side Thunder Bay Chill led the majority of the statistical categories, with striker Brandon Swartzendruber leading the league with 15 goals, while his teammate Gustavo Oliveira led the league with 13 assists. Portland Timbers U23s goalkeeper Jake Gleeson enjoyed the best goalkeeping statistics, allowing just five goals in 15 games and earning with a 0.360 GAA average.[20]

Western Conference teams dominated the league in 2011 for the third year in a row, with the Kitsap Pumas ending the season as national champions, beating Laredo Heat 1–0 in the 2011 PDL Championship game. Kitsap, who lost just one game and conceded just ten goals all season, were the second team from the Northwest Division to win the national title in a row, while Laredo were contesting their fourth championship game in six years. Kitsap also were the first PDL-Pro team to win the championship, a milestone for the league. Kitsap's Western Conference rivals Fresno Fuego had the best regular-season record, posting an unbeaten 13–0–3 record. Fresno midfielder Milton Blanco was named League MVP, after leading the league in points (38) and assists (14) and helping his team to the Southwest Division title. Two Michigan Bucks players – Stewart Givens and Mitch Hildebrandt – were given end-of-season awards as Defender of the Year and Goalkeeper of the Year respectively, while their coach Gary Parsons was named Coach of the Year. Jake Keegan of the Westchester Flames was named Rookie of the Year after tallying 16 goals in 16 games to take the league goal-scoring crown. Keegan accounted for 64 percent of Westchester's goals in 2011 and also finished third in the league in points with 34.[21]

The 2012 PDL season would see a resurgence of the Eastern Conference, as the Michigan Bucks would claim the regular season title, with Canadian rivals Forest City London winning their first ever PDL Championship in an East coast contest, defeating Carolina Dynamo 2–1.[22] Canadian clubs would also have another strong season in 2013, with four of eight Canadian clubs finishing in the final eight and two, the Victoria Highlanders and Thunder Bay Chill, advancing to the semi-finals.[23] After a final four finish in 2012, The Chill would repeat their strong season, winning the 2013 regular season title but falling to the Austin Aztex in the Championship final 3–1 in front of a crowd of 4,253 fans, the largest attendance for a final since 2007.[24][25]

In 2014, the Michigan Bucks would claim their second PDL Championship, defeating the Kitsap Pumas 1–0 on August 3, 2014, following a strong regular season campaign with a record of 9–2–3.[26]

With USL Pro re-branding as the United Soccer League in February 2015,[27] the PDL dropped the "USL" descriptor from their name, simply operating as the "Premier Development League".

The 2015 season would see league newcomers, New York Red Bulls U-23, put forth a very strong showing, finishing first in the Mid Atlantic Division and making it all the way to the Championship Final, before falling to the lower-seeded K-W United FC, who emerged from the very competitive Great Lakes Division, fending off perennial contenders and rivals Forest City London and the defending champions Michigan Bucks on their path to the final. United would come away winners 4–3 over the Red Bulls on August 3, 2015 at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, Washington to claim their first ever Championship and the third for a Canadian club.[28][29]


As PDL seasons take place during the summer months, the player pool is drawn mainly from elite college soccer players seeking to continue playing high-level soccer during their summer break, which they can do while still maintaining their college eligibility, as the PDL is not considered a "professional" league.[30]

Formerly, teams such as Laredo Heat, New Orleans Jesters, Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-23, Kitsap Pumas and the Hollywood United Hitmen have been embracing at least partial professionalism through a new program called PDL-Pro, whereby teams can choose to employ players who are paid for their performances,[31] but who still meet the age eligibility criteria. This does not contravene NCAA rules, which state that college players cannot play alongside professionals, but may play against them. What this also means, however, is that PDL-Pro teams cannot have any active NCAA players on their rosters, but may employ NAIA and community college players, ex-NCAA players who have already graduated, or other local players who do not play college soccer at all.

Currently, all PDL teams field amateur, U23 squads.

In addition, PDL squads often also include standout high school and junior club players, as well as former professionals seeking to continue competing at a high level, often having been forced to retire from top flight competition due to age or injury. PDL rules dictate that a maximum of eight players on each team's 26-man roster can be over 23 years old, while at least three players on each team's roster must be 18 or younger.

Increasingly, the PDL is seen as a 'shop window' for professional clubs looking to discover and identify aspiring professional players who may enter the MLS SuperDraft in future years. Many of the players currently playing in Major League Soccer and elsewhere began their careers in the PDL.

In May 2018, the league did not permit Calgary Foothills FC to sign Stephanie Labbé, a goalkeeper for the Canadian women's team, even though the team had offered her a position. The decision was made due to her gender.[32][33] Labbé filed a lawsuit against the league.[34]

Current clubs

Team Country City/area Stadium Founded Head coach
Eastern Conference
Northeast Division
Black Rock FC U.S. Great Barrington, MA Hotchkiss Athletic Fields 2013
Boston Bolts U.S. Boston, MA Alumni Field 2015 Brian Ainscough
AC Connecticut U.S. Danbury, CT Westside Athletic Complex 2011 Alex Harrison
GPS Portland Phoenix U.S. Portland, ME Memorial Stadium 2009 Craig Fannan
Seacoast United Phantoms U.S. Portsmouth, NH Amesbury Sports Park 1996 Alistair Bain
Westchester Flames U.S. New Rochelle, NY City Park Stadium 1999 Gus Skoufis
Western Mass Pioneers U.S. Ludlow, MA Lusitano Stadium 1998 Joe Calabrese
Mid Atlantic Division
Evergreen FC U.S. Leesburg, VA Evergreen Sportsplex 2015 Grady Renfrow
FA Euro New York U.S. Brooklyn, NY Belson Stadium 2012 Ferdinando De Matthaeis
Lehigh Valley United U.S. Allentown, PA J. Birney Crum Stadium 2009 Andy Adlard
Long Island Rough Riders U.S. South Huntington, NY Hofstra University Soccer Stadium 1994 Flavio Ferri
New York Red Bulls U-23 U.S. Harrison, NJ Red Bull Training Facility 2009 Rob Elliott
Ocean City Nor'easters U.S. Ocean City, NJ Carey Stadium 1996 John Thompson
Reading United AC U.S. Reading, PA Gurski Stadium 1996 Alan McCann
South Atlantic Division
Carolina Dynamo U.S. Greensboro, NC Macpherson Stadium 1993 Tony Falvino
Charlotte Eagles U.S. Charlotte, NC Sportsplex at Matthews 1991 Luke Helmuth
Lionsbridge FC U.S. Newport News, VA Pomoco Stadium 2017 Chris Whalley
Myrtle Beach Mutiny U.S. Myrtle Beach, SC North Myrtle Beach Park and Sports Complex 2011 Kyle Timm
North Carolina FC U23[35] U.S. Cary, NC WakeMed Soccer Park 2017
Tobacco Road FC[36] U.S. Durham, NC Durham County Stadium 2013 Cedric Burke
Southern Conference
Southeast Division
IMG Academy Bradenton U.S. Bradenton, FL IMG Academy 1998 Scott Dean
Lakeland Tropics[37] U.S. Lakeland, FL Thomas W. Bryant Stadium 2017 Eoghan Conlon
FC Miami City U.S. Miami, FL Tropical Park Stadium 2014 Wagneau Eloi
Next Academy Palm Beach U.S. Boca Raton, FL Corey Lewis Stadium 2015 Edson Leivinha
North County United U.S. Port St. Lucie, FL South County Regional Stadium 2017 Peter Fuller
SIMA Águilas[38] U.S. Montverde, FL Montverde Academy Center 2017
The Villages SC U.S. Wildwood, FL Millennium Park 2016 Anderson DaSilva
Weston FC U.S. Pembroke Pines, FL Broward College Soccer Field 2017
Deep South Division
Birmingham Hammers U.S. Birmingham, AL Sicard Hollow Athletic Complex 2013 Wolf Koch
Memphis City FC U.S. Memphis, TN Christian Brothers University 2015 Mark Franklin
Mississippi Brilla U.S. Clinton, MS Clinton High School 2006 Mark McKeever
Peachtree City MOBA U.S. Peachtree City, GA MOBA Soccer Academy 2016 Volker Harms
SC United Bantams U.S. Columbia, SC SC United Soccer Center at Monticello Road 2012 Lee Morris
South Georgia Tormenta FC U.S. Statesboro, GA Eagle Field 2016 John Miglarese
Tri-Cities Otters U.S. Johnson City, TN Kermit Tipton Stadium 2016 David Strickland
Mid South Division
AHFC Royals U.S. Houston, TX Campbell Road Sports Park 2017 Josh Gardner
Brazos Valley Cavalry F.C.[39] U.S. Bryan, TX Nutrabolt Stadium 2017 James Clarkson
FC Cleburne U.S. Cleburne, TX The Depot at Cleburne Station 2017 Paul Davenport[40]
Corpus Christi FC U.S. Corpus Christi, TX Dugan Stadium 2017 Sebastian Giraldo
Houston FC U.S. Houston, TX San Jacinto College 2017 Bruce Talbot
OKC Energy U23 U.S. Oklahoma City, OK Norman North High School 2015 Jon Pearlman
Texas United U.S. Grand Prairie, TX AirHogs Stadium 2017 Arez Ardalani
Central Conference
Great Lakes Division
Cincinnati Dutch Lions U.S. Cincinnati, OH NKU Soccer Stadium 2013 Paul Nicholson
Dayton Dutch Lions U.S. West Carrollton, OH DOC Stadium 2009 Dan Griest
Derby City Rovers U.S. Louisville, KY King Louie’s Sports Complex 2010 Lee Chalmers
Lansing United U.S. Lansing, MI Archer Stadium 2013 Nate Miller
Michigan Bucks U.S. Pontiac, MI Ultimate Soccer Arenas 1995 Gary Parsons
West Virginia Chaos U.S. Charleston, WV Schoenbaum Stadium 2003 Chris Grassie
Heartland Division
Chicago FC United U.S. Chicago, IL Loyola Soccer Park 2017 Jamie Smith
Des Moines Menace U.S. Des Moines, IA Valley Stadium 1994 Alen Marcina
Kaw Valley FC U.S. Lawrence, KS Rock Chalk Park 2017 István Urbányi
St. Louis Lions U.S. St. Louis, MO Tony Glavin Soccer Complex 2006 Tony Glavin
Thunder Bay Chill Canada Thunder Bay, ON Fort William Stadium 2000 Giovanni Petraglia
WSA Winnipeg Canada Winnipeg, MB Ralph Cantafio Soccer Complex 2010 Eduardo Badescu
Western Conference
Northwest Division
Calgary Foothills FC Canada Calgary, AB Foothills Composite High School 1972 Tommy Wheeldon
Lane United FC U.S. Eugene, OR Willamalane Center 2013 John Galas
Portland Timbers U23s U.S. Salem, OR McCulloch Stadium 2008 Aaron Lewis
Seattle Sounders FC U-23 U.S. Tacoma, WA Franklin Pierce High School 2006 Darren Sawatzky
TSS FC Rovers Canada Burnaby, BC Swangard Stadium 2017 Colin Elmes
Victoria Highlanders Canada Victoria, BC Royal Athletic Park 2008 David Dew
Mountain Division
Albuquerque Sol FC U.S. Albuquerque, NM Ben Rios Field 2013 Matt Gordon
Colorado Pride Switchbacks U23 U.S. Colorado Springs, CO Washburn Field & Weidner Field 2018 Diego Zaltron
Colorado Rapids U-23 U.S. Commerce City, CO Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Field #20 2017 Erik Bushey
Ogden City SC U.S. Ogden, UT Spence Eccles Ogden Community Sports Complex 2017 Eric Landon
FC Tucson U.S. Tucson, AZ Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium 2010 David Cosgrove
Southwest Division
Fresno FC U-23 U.S. Fresno, CA Fresno State Soccer & Lacrosse Stadium 2018 Andrew Donnery
FC Golden State Force U.S. Whittier, CA Rio Hondo College 2016 Jon Spencer
Orange County SC U-23 U.S. Costa Mesa, CA Vanguard University Stadium 2011 Chris Volk
San Diego Zest FC U.S. San Diego, CA Multiple[41] 2016 Cem Tont
San Francisco City FC U.S. San Francisco, CA Kezar Stadium 2001 Paddy Coyne[42]
San Francisco Glens SC[43] U.S. San Francisco, CA Boxer Stadium 1961 Javier Ayala-Hil
Santa Cruz Breakers FC[44] U.S. Santa Cruz, CA Cabrillo College Stadium 1992 Mike Runeare
Southern California Seahorses U.S. La Mirada, CA La Mirada High School 2001 Todd Elkins
Ventura County Fusion U.S. Ventura, CA Ventura College 2006 Rudy Ybarra

Future teams

Future teams
Team City Stadium Capacity Founded Joining League
Discoveries SC Rock Hill, SC Manchester Meadows Soccer Complex 2,000 1986 2019[45]
Florida Elite Jacksonville, FL 2014 2019[46]
Wake FC Wake County, NC 2001 2019[47]



(Defunct teams in italics)

Playoff championships by team

Complete team list

Notable professional players with PDL experience

Many senior international players had their first taste of competitive league experience playing in the PDL. This list includes players who, after playing in the PDL, have achieved some kind of significant success as a professional soccer player – playing internationally for their country, playing in one of the world's top leagues (such as the Premier League in England), being a No. 1 draft pick, or winning a major award such as the MLS Rookie of the Year award or the MAC Hermann Trophy, which is awarded to the best college soccer player of a given year and is American soccer's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.

Average attendance

Attendance stats are calculated by averaging each team's self-reported home attendances from the historical match archive at, and then averaging this league-wide.


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