The proven developmental leader in North American soccer's evolving tiered structure, the Premier Development League features 74 franchises in four conferences throughout the United States and Canada, including 18 clubs that are owned and operated by a professional club, or that hold a partnership with a professional club. The PDL has proven to be an important stepping-stone for top professionals now playing throughout the world, with more than 70 percent of all MLS selections since 2010 having PDL experience, including 66 selections in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft. The PDL season consists of 14 regular season matches for each team, seven home and seven away, and provides elite collegiate players the opportunity to taste a higher level of competition while maintaining their eligibility. In addition to league play, PDL teams compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup as well as various exhibitions.
The Premier Development League regular season takes place during the summer from early May to mid-July. Each team plays a 14-match schedule against their respective divisional opponents, seven at home and seven away. In conferences with three divisions, each division winner, plus the highest-finishing second-place team in the conference, advances to the playoffs in the conference semifinals. In conferences with two divisions, the top two teams from each division advance to the conference semifinals. The playoffs occur in late July, with each conference champion advancing to the national semifinals and the winners of those matches advancing to the PDL Championship in early August.
PDL clubs also compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, entering in the first round of the competition. The PDL teams competing are determined by standards set forth by the U.S. Open Cup Committee, with each division winner (or the highest-placed U.S. club in the event a Canadian-based club wins a division) having priority, and any remaining teams determined by at-large bids as laid out by the committee.
A record total of 21 PDL teams competed in the 2017 edition of the Open Cup. Three PDL clubs, the Michigan Bucks, Chicago FC United and Reading United AC, advanced to the third round by defeating professional teams.
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