Difference Between USL2, NPSL & UPSL

Soccer in the United States is a dynamic and rapidly growing sport, with various leagues and divisions offering opportunities for players and fans to engage with the beautiful game.

Three prominent leagues often capture the attention of both players and fans: the United Soccer League Two (USL2), the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), and the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL).

These leagues serve as vital platforms for aspiring players to showcase their skills and for communities to rally behind their local teams.

Each league serves as a platform for aspiring soccer talent, providing a pathway to professional play. In this comprehensive article, we will explore the differences between these three leagues, shedding light on their structure, goals, and the opportunities they offer.

USL2: The Developmental League

Difference Between USL2, NPSL & UPSL

The United Soccer League Two, often referred to as USL League Two, stands as the longest-standing fourth-division league in the United States.

Established in 1995, it has operated under various names, including the Premier Development League (PDL).

USL League Two has cemented its position as one of the most popular semi-professional leagues, particularly catering to off-season college soccer players.

Right from its inception, the league has maintained a strong commitment to safeguarding its players’ NCAA eligibility status.

Initially, this entailed strict adherence to amateurism.

Over the years, the league’s regulations regarding college players participating alongside compensated teammates have become more flexible.

Despite these adjustments, USL League Two primarily remains an amateur league, with provisions for players to be reimbursed for certain expenses.

The league has specific roster rules designed to preserve its developmental focus.

Teams are limited to a maximum of eight players aged 23 or older, emphasizing the inclusion of younger talents. Each team is also required to have a minimum of three players aged 18 or younger.

Due to its reliance on college players, USL League Two adopts a condensed schedule, majorly running from May to July during the summer break.

This scheduling allows college athletes to continue their development while maintaining their NCAA eligibility.

Key features of USL League Two include:

Development Focus

USL League Two prioritizes player development.

Its main goal is to provide college players, normally aged 18 to 23, with high-level competition during the off-season.

This enables them to maintain and enhance their skills and gain valuable experience.

Amateur Status

Players in USL League Two maintain their amateur status, allowing them to participate without jeopardizing their college eligibility.

Geographic Diversity

The league features a vast geographic footprint with teams across the United States and Canada. This diversity allows players to experience different playing styles and conditions.


NPSL: Community-Centric Soccer

Difference Between USL2, NPSL & UPSL

The National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) is an independent league that aims to serve local communities and develop grassroots soccer.

It has a history dating back to 2003, although it initially operated as a localized and regional league. It wasn’t until the past decade that the NPSL began to emerge as a significant challenger to USL League Two.

NPSL follows a similar summer schedule to USL2, attracting many college players.

However, it discerns itself by not imposing the same U23 roster restrictions. It is common to find older teams composed of former college and professional players in the NPSL.

The major differences between the NPSL and USL2 lie in entry fees and organizational structure.

The NPSL  has lower entry fees and a more flexible organizational setup.

Within the NPSL, the board is chosen by its member teams, differing from a model where teams pay to join a central league.

It’s a league structure that varies from region to region, and in many areas, the NPSL generally provides a lower level of play compared to USL2.

Consequently, professional teams, especially those with reserve teams, have historically leaned toward affiliating with USL2. This pattern persisted until the advent of MLS NEXT Pro, a platform designed for Major League Soccer (MLS) teams.

It’s worth noting that the quality of play can vary, and some individual NPSL teams or conferences might surpass USL2 in specific regions, depending on which league gained more prominence in that area.

Key features of NPSL include:


NPSL places a strong emphasis on community involvement and local club development. It is often considered a lower-tier alternative to Major League Soccer (MLS) for clubs aiming to build their presence in their respective regions.

Semi-Professional Status

While NPSL is competitive, it maintains a semi-professional status. Players may receive small stipends or other forms of compensation, but the league is not known for high player salaries.

Multiple Regions

The NPSL is divided into various regional conferences, which allows for localized competition and reduces travel costs for teams.

UPSL: Promotion and Relegation

Difference Between USL2, NPSL & UPSL

The United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) is unique in the American soccer landscape due to its implementation of promotion and relegation, a concept more commonly associated with European soccer.

Founded in 2011, UPSL has recently gained a strong national presence.

UPSL takes a different approach with full spring and fall seasons, although these schedules clash with college soccer, particularly in the fall.

Nevertheless, UPSL has strong soccer clubs comprising top amateur players, former college players, and ex-professionals.

It also includes players who could have pursued college soccer but didn’t due to academic, financial, or other reasons.

It divides teams into geographic conferences, and larger conferences have multiple divisions with promotion and relegation systems.

In terms of the level of play, UPSL usually falls between USL2 and NPSL.

However, this can vary depending on the team or region.

Normally, the more professional teams opt for USL2, while teams not predominantly composed of college players prefer the longer UPSL format over the shorter NPSL season.

Key features of UPSL include:

Promotion and Relegation

UPSL features a multi-tiered system with promotion and relegation between divisions. Teams have the opportunity to move up or down based on their performance.

Wide Range of Levels

The UPSL offers a wide range of divisions, from lower-tier amateur leagues to semi-professional ones. This structure allows clubs to find a suitable level of competition.

Nationwide Presence

With teams spread across the United States, the UPSL provides an extensive network for clubs and players seeking to compete and develop.


Key Differences & Considerations

Player Status

  • USL League Two: Amateur status, mainly for college players.
  • NPSL: Semi-professional status, often seen as a bridge between amateur and professional play.
  • UPSL: Various divisions, offering both amateur and semi-professional levels of competition.

Geographic Reach

  • USL League Two: National presence with teams in the United States and Canada.
  • NPSL: Regional structure with conferences across the country.
  • UPSL: Nationwide presence with divisions spanning multiple states.

Promotion and Relegation

  • USL League Two: Does not implement promotion and relegation.
  • NPSL: Generally, no promotion and relegation, although some independent regions may implement it.
  • UPSL: Features promotion and relegation within its multi-tiered system.

Development vs. Community vs. Competition

  • USL League Two: Development-oriented.
  • NPSL: Community-centric with a focus on grassroots soccer.
  • UPSL: Offers a variety of levels, emphasizing competition, with promotion and relegation as a unique feature.

Where to Play USL2, NPSL & UPSL?

If you’re looking to play in USL League Two, the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), or the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL), the choice often depends on your player profile and goals.

USL League Two:

  • If you’re a college player seeking a high level of competition during the summer, USL League Two is usually the best option.
  • USL2 provides exposure to the USL system, with many teams affiliated with professional clubs in USL League One or Championship.
  • It’s a great choice if you’re aiming to break into professional soccer leagues.


  • NPSL offers a good level of play and can be a viable option when there’s no USL2 team nearby, and you prefer not to relocate for the summer season.
  • If you’re looking to play professionally, explore USL2 for more exposure or consider opportunities in MLS Next Pro.


  • If you’re beyond the college age and want to play in national leagues, UPSL is one of the options.
  • Choosing between UPSL and NPSL in your area often comes down to schedule preferences and whether you intend to continue playing for another amateur team alongside your national league participation.

Consider your age, goals, and location to make the best decision on where to play in USL League Two, NPSL, or UPSL.