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United Soccer League Launches USL Forward to Increase Access and Opportunity Across USL Ecosystem

By Staff, 01/24/24, 2:00PM EST


Initiative includes USL Pro Preseason Residency Program for promising coaches within USL

TAMPA, Fla. – The United Soccer League (USL) today launched its signature Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program: USL Forward. This multi-dimensional, leaguewide initiative prioritizes professional development for technical staff, league and club executives, and local communities with the intention of increasing racial and gender diversity in leadership roles throughout the USL ecosystem.

USL Forward addresses a widely-recognized issue in global professional soccer – the lack of diversity among technical staff and executive positions. To start, USL Forward has created a new Pro Preseason Residency (PPR) Program to provide promising coaches with new, experiential opportunities to pursue their aspirations of coaching at the professional level. USL Forward also creates a platform for the USL and its member clubs to innovate and lead in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion for the betterment of the game and the industry.

Over the past eight months, the USL has conducted extensive research and qualitative interviews with stakeholders and subject matter experts, including the United Black Players of the USL, across the American soccer and global sports landscapes to understand the numerous factors that affect BIPOC and women candidates seeking leadership opportunities on the sideline and the front office.

At its launch, USL Forward will focus on coaching development.  Kicking off in February, in conjunction with the start of preseason for USL Championship and League One clubs, the USL Pro Preseason Residency (PPR) Program is designed to affect positive change through new professional development opportunities. Additionally, USL Forward will create opportunities for coaching education assistance.

USL Pro Preseason Residency (PPR) Program

With 2024 serving as its pilot year, the PPR Program is designed to identify high-performing, pro-aspiring BIPOC and women coaches and place them in a professional environment with an established curriculum. The participating coaches will receive immersive experience and real-world training as they work alongside pro-level head coaches and technical staff.

The program has three distinct phases, beginning with the USL Championship and League One preseason, and continuing through the end of the USL pro seasons. Phase One involves experiential professional environment immersion. Phase Two provides touchpoints with mentors at regular intervals during the calendar year. In Phase Three, PPR participant coaches provide feedback on the program and prepare to help mentor a new class of resident coaches for the following year.

Each year, resident coaches will be selected based on several criteria such as, but not limited to, licensed at the USSF-B or UEFA-B level or above, or seeking USSF or UEFA Pro License, demonstrated record of success in player development or coaching at the pre-professional or Academy level within USL, and representing a currently underrepresented group among technical staffs in the USL ecosystem.  In this pilot year, the five resident coaches were nominated and selected by USL Sporting and DEI departments in collaboration with participating clubs. Beginning in year two, there will be an open application process for the PPR Program.

Resident coaches may fall into one of three categories: Traveling Resident, Homegrown Resident and Player-to-Coach Resident.

2024 USL Pro Preseason Residency Program resident coaches and their placements

Name Current Title Pro Club Placement Role
Julie Carlson Technical Director & Head Coach, Greenville Liberty SC (W League) Greenville Triumph SC (L1) Homegrown Resident
Lekeisha Gumbs Director of Girls Academy, Chicago City SC & Head Coach, Chicago City SC (W League) Sacramento Republic FC (CH) Traveling Resident
Lauryn Hutchinson Head Scout, British Virgin Islands National Team & Technical Director, UNKNWN Athlete Academy Richmond Kickers (L1) Homegrown Resident
Troy McKerrell Head Coach, Des Moines Menace (League Two) Forward Madison FC (L1) Traveling Resident
Joseph Nane Oakland Roots SC Midfielder Oakland Roots SC (CH) Player to Coach Resident


Coaching Education

In collaboration with its partners, the USL will expand the number of coaching education scholarships available to BIPOC and women coaches to obtain advanced coaching licenses that will help them to meet the standards for professional coaching roles. In 2022, the USL, in partnership with KwikGoal and U.S. Soccer, kicked off the KwikGoal Coach Scholarship program which covers full tuition costs for a select number of candidates for the U.S. Soccer coaching course for the “A,” “B,” or “C” licenses. One of the scholarships will be awarded to an active player to assist in their post-playing career transition. Applications for the 2024 scholarships will be open by this summer.

Previous scholarship recipients include:

2022: Ryan James (player, Birmingham Legion FC), David Estrada (New Mexico United), Steph Savino (Morris Elite) and Kristin Eggert (Asheville City SC)

2023: Alexis Souahy (player, Union Omaha), Carmie Landeen (Tampa Bay United), Ria Popovic (Swan City SC), Jess Clinton (Oakland Soul SC), Sarah Fawcet (Pleasonton Rage)

As announced in December, the USL and the league’s new Official Apparel and Footwear Partner CHARLY USA will allocate a minimum of $15,000 per year towards a scholarship fund for players and coaches across the USL ecosystem and subsidize the cost of obtaining official coaching licenses.

Additional elements to USL Forward will be announced later this year. 


Paul McDonough, USL President and Chief Soccer Officer

“The development of the next generation of coaches is vital to the growth of the USL and soccer in America. To make progress in this area, up-and-coming coaches of all backgrounds need opportunities to gain expertise and experience at higher levels. USL Forward represents our commitment to expanding those opportunities for coaches in the USL ecosystem and having a real and long-term impact on coaching in our country.”

Dr. Chris Busey, VP of DEI and Community Impact

“USL Forward represents a bold and necessary step towards progress for our ecosystem, and the broader soccer landscape. Building this platform along with its associated initiatives to drive diversity and equity has been a rewarding exercise in collaboration, and ultimately demonstrates what we can accomplish when we work from an ethos of shared understanding. I am confident that USL Forward’s initiatives such as the Pro Preseason Residency program, our Coaching Diversity Scholarships, and future endeavors will result in the type of systemic transformation that needs to happen to work with intent towards continuous improvement while simultaneously sustaining a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive ecosystem.”

Carrie Taylor, VP of Operations for USL Super League

“USL Forward and, more specifically the Pro Preseason Residency Program, will move the needle for many coaches. I would like to thank our clubs for their belief in the PPR Program and for opening their doors to a very special experience for these coaches. Having navigated the coaching landscape within the men’s professional space myself, this is the type of program that I would have loved to have had access to during my own coaching journey. It’s been an honor to be able to collaborate with Dr. Busey and our USL team, our PPR coaches and participating USL clubs to continue to push for inclusivity within the game we all love.”

Liam O’Connell, USL Technical Director

“It’s been incredibly rewarding helping launch USL Forward and its associated initiatives such as our Coaching Diversity Scholarships & the USL Pro Preseason Residency program. We’re confident this broader strategic plan will help more coaches of all backgrounds develop their craft, continue their education, and build upon their network, all while gaining further access into USL’s growing coaching pathways from the youth to professional ranks.”

United Black Players of the USL

“United Black Players stands in solidarity with the United Soccer League's commitment to diversity and education. Embracing the new USL Forward platform marks a crucial and much-needed step in the right direction. Recognizing education as a key catalyst for growth, we firmly believe this initiative will foster continuous improvement, ensuring a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive soccer ecosystem for future coaches and players alike.”

Resident Coaches

  • Julie Carlson – “The opportunity the USL Forward Pro residency program provides is a step for coaches, like me a female coach, to invest in our craft as a leader and as a football coach to build ourselves a pathway for pro coaching opportunities in our country and worldwide. Coaching male or female athletes, the pro level must embrace more diversity and inclusion of female coaches in the pro coaching arena. I believe this residency program creates a platform of training and educational investment for us to dive into the business side as well as the on the field training & leadership needed to be successful at the pro level.”

  • Lekeisha Gumbs – “I am excited to be part of the pilot year of the USL Pro Preseason Residency Program. I will be traveling to Sacramento Republic, and I am thrilled to be gaining experience shadowing fellow British coach Mark Briggs, in a setting which is new to me as a coach. I have gained all my experience working in the female side of the game, but I am enthusiastic to see the game from a different perspective.”

  • Lauryn Hutchinson – “I am so excited to share that I will be a part of the USL Forward Program alongside the Richmond Kickers. It's not just a professional venture for me; it's a personal honor to work in my own city and engage with the dynamic young male leaders and the exceptional staff at the Kickers, including Darren and Mika. I am committed to giving my all to this opportunity, pouring everything I have into both my professional endeavors as I serve my community. Being able to contribute to the place I call home adds a special significance to this journey. I look forward to collaborating with the USL Forward Program and the Richmond Kickers, contributing to the growth of both, and making a positive impact on the community I deeply care about.”

  • Troy McKerrell – “The USL Forward Pro Preseason Residency program is groundbreaking, and I am excited to be one of the first members of this program. It's a testament to Dr. Busey and his hunger and desire to support us coaches on our journey to the top. I have been on many club insight visits to watch and engage with coaches up close and personal. This has been, in my opinion, the most beneficial and where real learning happens. I'm excited to learn from Matt Glaeser and his technical staff at Forward Madison who together have a wealth of experience and knowledge. Finally, I would like to thank the USL & the participating franchises who are helping to change the landscape for minority coaches.”

  • Joseph Nane – “I am thrilled and honored to be chosen to participate in the USL Forward Pro Preseason Residency Program. It is a great opportunity to further my coaching learning experience and I look forward to acquiring the knowledge and building long and lasting connections.”