USL League Two, NPSL, and UPSL are all fourth-division leagues. Here’s how they compare.

Fourth Division Soccer in the US

The United States Soccer Federation technically only has three divisions. That’s the first, second, and third divisions of professional soccer.

Division one is MLS. Division two is USL Championship. Division three is USL League One, MLS NEXT Pro, and NISA.

The so-called “fourth division” is other directly sanctioned leagues that operate as an amateur national league or semi-professional league. That’s where USL2, NPSL, and UPSL all fall in.

USL League Two

United Soccer League League Two is the oldest fourth-division league by far. It’s been operating since 1995 under various names including the PDL or Premier Development League.

USL League Two is one of the most popular semi-professional leagues for off-season college soccer players.

From the beginning, the league has sought to protect its players’ NCAA eligibility status. This originally meant being a strictly amateur league, although the rules on college players playing with other players who are getting paid have loosened over the years.

The league is still predominately an amateur league although players may be reimbursed for some expenses. The league’s roster rules limit teams to eight players over the age of 23. They also require at least three players who are 18 or younger.

Because the league uses mainly college players, it plays a condensed schedule in the May to July summer break.


The National Premier Soccer League has been around since 2003 but it mainly started as a local and regional league. It has only started to challenge USL League Two within the last decade.

The NPSL plays a similar summer schedule to USL2. It also has many college players but doesn’t have the same U23 roster restrictions. Older teams made up of former college and professional teams are common.

The main differences between the NPSL and USL2 are that the NPSL has lower entry fees and a looser organizational structure. NPSL has a board chosen by its teams rather than teams paying to join a central league in a similar manner to beer league teams joining a beer league.

In most places, NPSL has a lower level of play than USL2. Most professional teams that have reserve teams place them in USL2 (or for MLS teams, did until MLS NEXT Pro began).

Some individual NPSL teams or conferences can be better than USL2 depending on which league caught on more in a given area.


UPSL or the United Premier Soccer League was formed in 2011 but has only recently gained a strong national presence.

The UPSL takes a different approach with full spring and fall seasons. It still has some college players, but the fall season especially conflicts with college soccer.

UPSL still has very strong soccer clubs with top amateur players, former college players, and former pro players. It also has players who could have played in college but didn’t due to academic, financial, or other reasons.

UPSL has geographic conferences and the larger conferences have multiple divisions with promotion and relegation.

UPSL usually falls in between USL2 and NPSL in terms of the level of play. Again, this can vary by team or region.

But basically, the most professional teams are usually in USL2, and then teams that aren’t made up of college players prefer the longer UPSL format over the short NPSL season.

Where to Play

If you’re a college player, USL2 will usually offer the best level of competition. NPSL is still usually a good level of play if there’s no USL2 team near you and you don’t want to pay to live somewhere else for the summer.

If you’re trying to break into the professional soccer leagues, USL2 will give you more exposure to the USL system. Remember, many USL2 teams are affiliated with USL League One or Championship professional teams. You should also look into MLS Next Pro.

If you’re older than college age, your options for national leagues are usually UPSL or NPSL. If you have both in your area, it usually comes down to which schedule you prefer and whether you also want to continue playing for another amateur team.

2 thoughts on “USL2 vs NPSL vs UPSL”

  1. The best NPSL clubs always abandon the league for USL sooner or later. USL2 is clearly the best amateur league by far.

  2. NPSL and USL2 are very even. Not really sure why anyone would say USL2 is better. When they go head to head in the USOC it is usually pretty even and NPSL usually does better. USL2 is definitely deeper.


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