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In Answer To The Uproar: Graham Walsh, UPSL CEO on Why It Was Important To Be A National Affiliate and Not Under USASA And State Associations
Published Mar 18, 2022

By SoccerToday

The soccer landscape in America is always changing but it is big news when a new U.S. Soccer National Affiliate is announced, especially one that registered 15,000 players with a governing body last season. UPSL wants to play a vital role in U.S. Soccer and champion their clubs.

The United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) is the largest adult amateur soccer league in the USA. As a national league, the UPSL is on the broad unofficial 4th tier of the American soccer system, along with the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) and USL League Two. Founded in 2011 by Leonel Lopez, the UPSL has grown under the guidance of commissioner Yan Skwara tremendously in the last 11 years. UPSL projects over 350 Men’s and 60 Womens’ soccer teams will compete in its nationwide league in Spring 2022. Honored to be recognized as the fastest growing league in America, in 2021 the UPSL had soccer clubs in 38 states. 

Believing in the American Dream — the league’s ethos reflects the ideal of hard work, determination and talent paving the road for opportunity. The UPSL has achieved this nobel pursuit in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup when its team La Maquina advanced to the 4th round and played MLS’ LA Galaxy.  While the pros won the match 4-1 against the amateurs, the event proved the promise and hope built into this knockout cup competition.

Photo by Arianna Grainey/UPSL

For 2022, the UPSL had 37 teams register for the qualifying rounds of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with 6 teams advancing to the First Round of the oldest ongoing national soccer competition in the United States. U.S. Soccer’s coverage of two UPSL clubs in SAN FERNANDO VALLEY FC COMES OF AGE WITH DREAM OPEN CUP DEBUT, shows the sacrifice, struggle and pride of competing in the Open Cup. 

Off the field, UPSL has also earned recognition. The league applied and was approved on March 4th at the U.S. Soccer AGM (Annual General Meeting) in Atlanta, Georgia as a National Affiliate member of the United States Soccer Federation. Previously sanctioned by the U.S. Adult Soccer Association (USASA), the UPSL is now a direct member of U.S. Soccer and has become its own governing body.

The benefits of being a National Affiliate of United States Soccer Federation includes a great prestige.

But what does it really mean? Is UPSL becoming a governing body advantageous for its teams or will they lose out on participating in events held by USASA such as the annual Amateur Cup?

There has been considerable controversy of the UPSL becoming a National Affiliate and leaving the USASA, and its many state associations. Is what could be considered a contentious strife for some actually motivated by the loss of revenue? (Each player pays a registration fee and these funds will no longer be collected by the Adult State Associations and then passed on but paid directly by UPSL to U.S. Soccer.)

I spoke with Graham Walsh, CEO of the United Premier Soccer League and asked “Why is National Affiliate membership was important for the league?”

I spoke with Graham Walsh, CEO of the United Premier Soccer League and asked “Why is National Affiliate membership so important for the league?”

Here is Walsh’s response:

In the last two years I was able to observe the U.S. Soccer system extensively. Parts of it are functioning very well, such as the success of the Men’s and Women’s National Teams. The quality of MLS has improved signficantly and there has been an increase of people watching. US born soccer players are emerging and advancing to the top of the sport in greater numbers — so the development of our youth has improved … but player development does not halt at age 17. 

There are thousands of young adults who are not getting the recognition they deserve as they improve in this 17-23 age bracket. 

Former UPSL player Oliver Romero has recently signed with the Spain’s LA LIGA’s club CF Fuenlabrada. The Venezuelan goalkeeper played for Atlético Madrid Academia MIA in the UPSL Florida South Division

I do not believe U.S. Soccer supports this developmental stage as much as they could.  The UPSL wants to advocate directly for these players to the Federation.


Under USASA, we were grouped with ‘Adult Soccer’ which is run by the adult administrators from the State Associations. Sad to say, but some of these officials, so-called servants to the game, are now dinosaurs. They are not innovators. Blind to change and progress, these stewards tend to think their local leagues are in competition with national leagues in a country of 330 million people. 

It’s like thinking youth recreational soccer is in competition with elite youth. 

Outside of those involved, nobody cares about EPSL or MWPL or has even heard of them. They serve a purpose on a local basis. Yet they openly criticize what we do nationally — without having any understanding of the role we play. 


These administrators should be working to grow the game but they end up shrinking it. Expecting these officials to speak on our behalf makes no sense. So now we are direct members and our ideas will not be diluted. 

2021 National Champions – Photo by Arianna Grainey/UPSL

UPSL is comprised of players from over 90 countries and 6 different continents. A number of these athletes live in underserved communities where they don’t have easy access to play the game or get the exposure they so richly deserve. We are very honored to have this level of diversity present and we want to increase the opportunities for these young athletes, and improve the awareness of them at the Federation level. 

As a league, we also needed to allow professionally contracted players to participate in our clubs — especially as we have attracted MLS Academy U19 teams (including LAFC who went to our National Finals, and Atlanta United whose player Calib Wiley just scored on his MLS debut). The USASA insurance did not allow professionals to participate, so we found our own policy which does.

Atlanta United Academy U-19 team competes in UPSL

In an effort to seek to help the great financial need of our clubs, we applied for a grant to subsidize the referee fees linked to better behavior toward the refs. It is a way to equitably trickle a little funds into all these great clubs. U.S. Soccer has yet to announce the ITG awards, so we are just hoping they appreciate the need.

There are several other goals on our agenda which include a proposal to the Open Cup committee and making sure all of our players are registered with FIFA IDs. We were expecting 14,000 FIFA player IDs to be provided last season but receieved zero. Now, we can connect directly to the U.S. Soccer registration system and accomplish this.

Former UPSL player Daniel Jr Deleon has recently signed with the New York Red Bulls II. The 21-year-old defender played last season for Vlora FC, competing the UPSL Midwest West Conference.

Besides the reasons I have mentioned, there is another important value to becoming a National Affiliate. There is an unfortunate lack of funding in this soccer segment in which we operate. One of the reasons the UPSL has been successful is the low cost compared to the other national leagues. For many clubs decision making is not based on what’s best for the development of their players but what they can afford. So, I believe U.S. Soccer could do more to support this part of the soccer ecosystem. We want to actively champion our teams. A little investment goes a long way. These owners and coaches are doing incredible work for their players and their communities. They deserve recognition.

It will take time as we continue to push against the inertia, but we are determined to make our contribution to the progress of the sport. Developing our relationship and collaborating with the top officials in the Federation will surely help that.

Graham Walsh

Top Image: Courtesy of UPSL / U.S. Soccer