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A USL Select ball lays on the pitch at Charleston’s MUSC Health Stadium on June 11, 2019. (Mitchell Northam / Pro Soccer USA)
A USL Select ball lays on the pitch at Charleston’s MUSC Health Stadium on June 11, 2019. (Mitchell Northam / Pro Soccer USA)

The United Soccer League is expanding its academy system to provide opportunities for young women.

The league announced Thursday a women's pathway within the USL Academy. It aims to provide a direct route for "ambitious young players to reach the top level of professional soccer," according to a press release.

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This will be the first time the USL has provided a player-development path for women. It will go into effect for the 2020-21 youth soccer season.

The move comes after the launch of the USL Academy platform and the first USL Academy Cup event, which was held in San Antonio last month.

"This is just the first step in our growing commitment to women's soccer in the United States," USL chief operating officer Justin Papadakis said in a statement. "With the recent unprecedented growth of the women's game, we feel it is time for USL to be proactive in developing a developmental platform for young women to pursue their dreams. As opportunities continue to increase for young women to pursue professional soccer, we want our clubs and their youth affiliates to work in tandem to help them achieve that goal."

The league hopes the move will allow USL clubs to "more fully support" their local youth soccer clubs, camps, affiliates and other partners within the region of their soccer community.

"Since launching earlier this year, we're very grateful for how well our USL Academy initiatives have been received, not just by our current USL clubs but even more so by their local youth soccer communities," Liam O'Connell, the USL's senior director of youth development, said in a statement. "As our clubs and their local counterparts began to work together to build stronger player development pathways at home, it became apparent that there was an incredible amount of interest in providing the same opportunities to young female players."

While this is the first women's academy platform the league is introducing, it did run a women's league from 1995 through 2015 called the USL W-League, which was open to college players and allowed them retain their eligibility, similar to what the USL's League Two offers for men.

The league said it will release more information about the pathway for women, including application details, in the coming months.

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