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Part 5: The United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League


This is Part 5 in the series on the United Soccer Leagues. In this article we’ll take an in-depth look at the Premier Development League featuring the Dayton Dutch Lions

The Premier Development League, PDL, is the amateur league of the United Soccer Leagues. The PDL is currently the top U-23 men’s league in the United States consisting of 68 teams across four conferences within the US and Canada. Each conference is further divided into two divisions for a total of eight divisions. The season consists of 16 regular season games, eight home and eight away. In addition to league play, PDL teams also compete in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup and other exhibition matches. The PDL is considered to be in the fourth tier of soccer in the United States behind MLS, the USSF Division 2 (USL First Division and the North American Soccer League) and the USL Second Division.
While it is not considered a “professional” league in the strictest sense as some players do not receive payment, the PDL prides itself on professionalism in the way that the league is run, its dedication to developing young players and preparing them for professional careers within the United States and abroad. Because the season is played over the summer months, the PDL draws from a large pool of NCAA college soccer players looking to continue play over the summer and maintain their eligibility. A new program called PDL-Pro allows teams to employ non-NCAA players who are paid for their performance, but still meet NCAA eligibility requirements. This does not breach the NCAA eligibility rules that state that college players many not play alongside professionals but may play against them. PDL rosters often include standout high school or club players in addition to former professional players who have been forced to retire from top-level competition but still wish to compete at a high level. PDL rules allow for a maximum of eight players on each team’s 26-man roster to be over the age of 23, while at least three players must be 18 or younger.

States with PDL Teams Highlighted in Red

In 1995 the United System of Independent Soccer Leagues, USISL, split into two leagues, one professional and one amateur. As we discussed in Part 4 of this series, this split eventually saw the Pro League become the USL Second Division, while the formation of the amateur side gave birth to the Premier League. The reason for the split was to expand soccer in many urban areas while allowing college players to continue playing through the summer without losing eligibility. The inaugural season consisted of 27 teams with the Richmond Kickers defeating the Cocoa Express 3-1 for the Championship.
Over the next three seasons the Premier League would grow to 33 teams, see the Central Coast Roadrunners capture the first-ever consecutive titles and change its name to the Premier Development Soccer League, PDSL.   In 1988, a young striker from the Spokane Shadow, Brian Ching, was named Rookie of the Year. Ching would go on to be drafted by the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer and be named MVP of the 2006 MLS Cup.
When USISL changed its name to the United Soccer Leagues in 1999, the PDSL became known as the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League or PDL. The league expanded to 42 teams in six divisions. 
Through the 2000s, the PDL saw sustained growth increasing the number of teams to the current 68. An agreement with Fox Soccer Channel saw the PDL Championship broadcast live for the first time. Also, by the mid-2000s, professional teams began to invest in the league by adding U-23 development sides in addition to their senior rosters. In 2009, the PDL-Pro program was introduced allowing teams to act as professional clubs by paying players and while still maintaining NCAA eligibility requirements.
The PDL is organized in four conferences – Central, Eastern, Sothern, and Western. Each conference is further divided into two divisions with the Central Conference consisting of the Great Lakes and Heartland Divisions; the Eastern Conference hosting the Mid-Atlantic and North East Divisions; the Southern Conference is home to the Mid-South and Southeast Divisions; and, finally, the Western Division consists of the Northwest and Southwest Divisions. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the Central Conference and the Great Lakes Division specifically, which is home to the Dayton Dutch Lions.

 Great Lakes Division
Team Logo City Stadium Colors Head Coach
Chicago Fire Bridgeview, IL Toyota Park Red, White Larry Sunderland
Cincinnati Kings Wilder, KY Town & Country Soccer Stadium Black, Red Roby Stahl
Cleveland Internationals Medina, OH Pinnacle Sports Complex White, Blue George Nanchoff
Dayton Dutch Lions Bellbrook, OH Miami Valley South Stadium Orange, White Sonny Silooy
Forest City London London, ON TD Waterhouse Stadium Blue, White Martin Painter
Indiana Invaders South Bend, IN Indiana Invaders Soccer Complex Blue, Black Mubarike Chisoni
Kalamazoo Outrage Kalamazoo, MI Loy Norrix High School Blue, White Chris Adrian
Michigan Bucks Pontiac, MI Ultimate Soccer Arenas White, black Dan Fitzgerald
Toronto Lynx Etobicoke, ON Centennial Park Stadium White, Gold Duncan Wilde

Heartland Division

Team Logo City Stadium Colors Head Coach
Des Moines Menace Des Moines, IA Valley Stadium Red, White, Black Laurie Calloway
Kansas City Brass Liberty, MO Greene Stadium White, Blue Jefferson Roblee
Real Colorado Foxes Highlands Ranch, CO Shea Stadium Red, White, Black Lorne Donaldson
Rochester Thunder Rochester, MN RCTC Stadium Blue, White Neil Cassidy
Springfield Demize Springfield, MO Cooper Sports Complex White, Blue Logan Hoffman
St. Louis Lions Cottleville, MO Tony Glavin Soccer Complex Green, Black Tony Glavin
Thunder Bay Chill Thunder Bay, ON Fort William Stadium White, Blue Tony Colistro

In Part 6 we'll take a more in-depth look at the Great Lakes Conference and the teams the Dutch Lions will play.


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