The USL Premier Development League (commonly known as the PDL) is the amateur league of the United Soccer Leagues in the United States, Canada, and Bermuda, forming part of the American Soccer Pyramid. It is currently the top-level men's amateur soccer competition in the United States, and has 73 teams competing in four conferences, split into nine regional divisions; unofficially, it is considered to be the fourth tier of competition, behind Major League Soccer, the North American Soccer League and the USL Professional Division, and roughly equal with the National Premier Soccer League.
Forest City London are the reigning PDL champions, having defeated the Carolina Dynamo 2-1 in the 2012 PDL Championship game on August 4, 2012.
While not strictly a "professional" league in the sense that the majority of players do not receive payment, the PDL prides itself on its professionalism in terms of its organization and the way the league is run, and its dedication to developing young soccer players, preparing them for future careers in professional leagues in the United States and elsewhere. As PDL seasons take place during the summer months, the player pool is drawn mainly from elite NCAA college soccer players seeking to continue playing high-level soccer during their summer break, which they can do while still maintaining their college eligibility.
However, in recent years, teams such as Laredo Heat, New Orleans Jesters, Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-23, Kitsap Pumas and the Hollywood United Hitmen have been embracing at least partial professionalism through a new program called PDL-Pro, whereby teams can choose to employ players who are paid for their performances, but who still meet the age eligibility criteria. This does not contravene NCAA rules, which state that college players cannot play alongside professionals, but may play against them. What this also means, however, is that PDL-Pro teams cannot have any active NCAA players on their rosters, but may employ NAIA and community college players, ex-NCAA players who have already graduated, or other local players who do not play college soccer at all.
In addition, PDL squads often also include standout high school and junior club players, as well as former professionals seeking to continue competing at a high level, often having been forced to retire from top flight competition due to age or injury. PDL rules dictate that a maximum of eight players on each team's 26-man roster can be over 23 years old, while at least three players on each team's roster must be 18 or younger.
Increasingly, the PDL is seen as a 'shop window' for professional clubs looking to discover and identify aspiring professional players who may enter the MLS SuperDraft in future years. Many of the players currently playing in Major League Soccer and elsewhere began their careers in the PDL.
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