Academica Soccer Club of Turlock announced on Thursday morning that their men’s and women’s teams will be joining the United Soccer League (USL) beginning in 2023. The men’s team will be competing in USL League Two while the women’s squad will be an expansion team in the new USL W League. Academica’s move to the USL comes after five seasons in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL).
“We are so excited to announce this,” said Academica President Simon Bettencourt. “When we made the jump to the NPSL in 2018, we looked at both leagues at the time, but the USL was a little bit out of our financial reach. After a few years, we reached out and they liked what we had accomplished in the NPSL, so they thought we’d be a great addition.”
The USL is made up of three men’s leagues: the USL Championship, USL League One and USL League Two. The USL Championship serves as a Division II professional league while League One and League Two serve as semi-professional developmental levels. Meanwhile, 2022 was the inaugural season for the USL W. For 2023, six new expansion teams, including Academica, have been added to the new NorCal Division.
Academica General Manager Michael Rocha describes the USL as the minor leagues of soccer in the United States. He explained that the USL has become regarded as the top Division II and developmental league in the nation after producing a multitude of Major League Soccer and FIFA World Cup talent. In last year’s MLS Draft, over half of the players selected have USL experience. And in this year’s World Cup in Qatar, eight members of the United States Men’s National Team have played in USL League Two, including starting goalkeeper Matt Turner.
“The USL is where all the developmental and semi-professional teams want to be,” Rocha said. “While other leagues can certainly help young players achieve their professional soccer goals, the USL provides a clearer path forward.”
Longtime Academica men’s head coach Sergio Sousa believes that the new partnership can help open doors for local talent.
"We are very excited to be joining USLL2,” Sousa said. “The competition and the level of players are elevated. We love that we get to bring that to our home and connect our club with the USL. AC continues to move in the right direction, providing great opportunities for the players in our area."
In terms of the women’s team, Bettencourt expressed pride that Academica was able to join the USL W after only one year of existence.
“I think that this is a huge testament to how much the women’s scene has grown,” Bettencourt said. “From not having these opportunities from the USL to now being able to be a part of this new division on the West Coast, it’s been huge for our club and our players. We always want to showcase them on the best stage possible, and we think that the USL W is definitely the way to go about it.”
Academica women’s head coach Damon Solomon shared similar sentiments, expressing excitement over the opportunity for his team to compete in a higher talent pool.
"I think it'll be wonderful that we are joining USL W league this summer. The organization is great for the women’s game and gives an avenue for college, high school, club and post-college players to play in the summer. There is a lot of deep talent in the Valley, 209 area that can complete with other areas in NorCal and the Western area. I can’t wait to see more players and fans come out this season and join the Academica women’s side," Solomon said.
Academica’s USL debut for both men’s and women’s teams is expected in May.
“We think the USL is the route to go for the future,” Bettencourt said. “The USL is going to be a great steppingstone for us and our players and I just hope everyone comes out to enjoy these gameday experiences and catch a glimpse of these players who may go on to play in the professional ranks.”