So Cal Club Soccer Terms to Know

I sometimes have people ask me about all the competitive club soccer leagues and terms in Southern California youth soccer.  The club world can be so confusing- especially if you’re new to club soccer.  I looked back through my old posts for something comprehensive to give people something to read, but I realized that things change so quickly and I decided it was time for an update.

As always, I’m not an expert so please do your own research, but hopefully some of the links included are helpful.  Please let me know what I’m forgetting!


Cal South | Cal North

Cal South is the official Southern/Northern California youth and adult state soccer association of the United States Soccer Federation, the United States Youth Soccer, and the United States Adult Soccer Association.  Cal South registers players, coaches, referees and league administrators for both recreational and competitive teams.  To play in tournaments and other leagues players are registered through Cal South/North and receive a player card with their picture, birthdate and player ID number.  Most Southern California tournaments and leagues are sanctioned by Cal South including State Cup and National Cup.  

SCDSL | Southern California Developmental Soccer League

Founded in 2011 SCDSL is now considered the one of the most competitive gaming leagues in California.  There are three tiers or levels of play.  Clubs may decide which tier in which each team will play (for the most part!) and there is no earned promotion or demotion by the league.  There is a Fall season and a Spring season.  Many of the top Southern California clubs play in the SCDSL.  

CSL | Coast Soccer League

Until 2011, CSL was the premier gaming league in California and is still strong for boys and at the Premier level for the olders.  There are up to five levels of play including Bronze, Silver, Silver Elite, Gold and Premier.  Teams earn promotion or relegation through the different levels by results each season.  CSL has both a Fall and Spring season and also hosts a popular “League Cup” in November/December.  

Presidio League | San Diego

Presidio is a San Diego based gaming league with different levels of play based on promotion and relegation.  Presidio allows clubs to have teams in both Presidio and SCDSL.  

CRL | California Regional League

The California Regional League is a division of the US Soccer Far West Regional League. Beginning at U12, teams can earn entry into the CRL through performance at National Cup or through a play-in process, rather than simply being in a member club.  League play is in either southern or northern California depending on location.  Teams ultimately play for a place in the US Soccer Far West Regional Championships as well as greater exposure to U.S. Soccer National Team staff, top college coaches, Region IV ODP staff and Cal South Pro+ scouts at the two annual showcase events.  

EGSL | Elite Girls Soccer League

The EGSL is a new league founded in 2013 to “address the college recruiting needs of the sister team players” in the ECNL clubs.  Not only will the top teams of the Elite Clubs National League get exposure, but now the sister teams (second teams) will as well.  It will also include the “Jr ECNL” U12 and U13 teams as well as the top teams for the ECNL affiliate clubs (example CDA Slammers).  There is currently a Northern California fall league, Southern California spring league and a Spring Jr ECNL Showcase.  Many people ask what the difference between ECNL and EGSL is- I wrote about it here.  It will be interesting to see what happens with the EGSL after the Development Academy begins in 2017. 


US Soccer 

 US Soccer is the governing body of soccer in all forms in the United States.  Their mission statement is to make soccer, in all its forms, a preeminent sport in the United States and to continue the development of soccer at all recreational and competitive levels.  US Soccer runs the National Teams and Development Academy among many other things.   

Academy | US Soccer Development Academy | Boys Only…Girls coming in 2017

US Soccer created the development academy in 2007 in partnership with Elite boys clubs across the country to produce the next generation of National Team players.  The league begins at U13/14 and teams play 30 games throughout the year during a 10 month season.  Teams are not to play in any other league, State Cup, ODP or all star events without permission from US Soccer.  Full time academy players must forgo playing on their high school teams.  Arsenal, Chivas, LA Galaxy, Nomads, Pateadores, Real So Cal, Strikers and San Diego Surf are all So Cal clubs with Boys Academy teams.  LA Galaxy San Diego, Surf, Albion, West Coast, So Cal Blues, Slammers LAFC, Pateadores, LA Galaxy, Beach, Real So Cal, Eagles, LA Premier and Legends are all So Cal teams with upcoming Girls Academy Teams.  The girls teams will initially be in two year “bands” with 2003/2004, 2001/2002, 1999/2000 groups. 

US Club Soccer 

US Club Soccer sanctions and administers leagues including the ECNL (Elite Clubs National League), NPL (National Pacific League), Premier Leagues, State/National Cups and numerous tournaments.  Southern California players need an additional “US Club Soccer” player card in addition to their “Cal South” player card to participate in any of these events.  They sanction the Coast Soccer League “Cal Cup” which is played in the Spring as well as most of the Northern California tournaments. 

ECNL | Elite Clubs National League | Girls Only

Founded in 2009, the goal of the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) is to change the landscape for elite female soccer players in the United States through innovative, player-centered programming and to enhance the overall experience by creating a better, more enjoyable, and more successful player, coach, and club development model.  ECNL is considered the highest level of girls soccer and is club based with only member clubs allowed to participate in the events.  Beginning at U14, players on ECNL teams can expect to do a fair amount of travelling around the United States.  The ECNL has had a major impact on soccer in Southern California with girls striving to play for the eight ECNL clubs (Eagles, Real So Cal, Slammers, Strikers, So Cal Blues, West Coast and Surf) and moving away from non-ECNL clubs.  The promise of college scholarships through increased exposure at the ECNL showcases is a big draw for girls…and their parents.  It will be interesting to see what happens with ECNL with the introduction of the Girls’ Academy in 2017.  You can read more about ECNL in my post “What is ECNL?” and guest post “Advice to a First Year ECNL Parent

National League 

The National League is an extension of the highly successful US Youth Soccer Regional Leagues (Region I Champions League, Midwest Regional League, Southern Regional Premier League and Far West Regional League). The National League provides an avenue for teams to play in meaningful matches against top competition from across the country for continued development. In addition to recruiting opportunities, National League teams compete for the National League title for their gender age groups and 4 slots in each gender age group of the annual US Youth Soccer National Championships Finals, the oldest and most prestigious youth soccer national championships. (taken from their website) 

NPL | National Premier League

The National Premier Leagues (NPL) offer a platform for long-term player development by providing consistent and meaningful games between the region’s top players and also provides opportunities for players to be scouted by U.S. Soccer national staff. Winners of each league within the NPL will qualify for US Club Soccer’s National Premier Leagues Champions Cup.  

ODP | Olympic Development Program

The Olympic Development Program was formed in 1977 by US Youth Soccer to identify a pool of players from which a National Team will be selected for International Competition.  ODP is divided into four regions, each of which runs camps to further identify and provide high level training and competition.  In So Cal players are identified by Cal South scouts and then invited to training camps.  Other states hold open tryouts.  You can also read my post “What is ODP?” if you are looking for more information.


STATE CUP | Cal South

State Cup takes place in the winter and is the culmination of the club soccer year.  The Governors (lower) division plays in January/February and the Presidents (higher) plays in February/March.  Expect to travel to lovely locales such as Lancaster or Apple Valley for the large field complexes, but the addition of Silverlakes in Norco and SoCal Complex in Oceanside have recently made for much better destinations.  There also is now a Mayors Cup lowest division for the younger teams.  


National Cup (U12 and above) is the highest level of Cal South State Competition and the winner moves on to play in US Youth Soccer’s Regional and National Championships.    


Winners of State or National Cup go on to play in the Far West Regionals as the next step.  This tournament is played with states in the Western Conference to determine who will represent the West in Nationals.  CRL (California Regional League) winners also participate in the Far West Regional.  


COACHING LICENSE | All club coaches must be licensed by US Soccer with at least an “E” license.  License levels range from E (the lowest) to A (the highest).  Usually high level teams have higher level licensed coaches, but an A license coach isn’t necessarily the best coach for your kid!  Team administrators are encouraged to take the E license in order to be able to coach in an emergency.   

DIRECTOR OF COACHING (DOC) | The Director of Coaching, otherwise known as the “DOC” is usually the person who runs a club.  He or she may or may not actually coach teams, but is in charge of all the coaches.  Depending on the size of the club, this person may also be in charge of operations and more.


CUP TIED | Cal South

Players are “cup tied” to a team after certain tournament deadlines if they are on the roster and may not play with another team.  Players may only play with one team for State or National Cup.


Team rosters are frozen per Cal South at midnight August 1st through the first Monday after Thanksgiving.  Players are not allowed to move from one team/club to another without the written permission of both Directors of Coaching.  The SCDSL also has an agreement that players are not to move clubs until after State/National Cup unless both Directors of Coaching agree on the move.


SCDSL allows any age-eligible player to play with any team within their club for league or showcase games.  For example, a player from the “B” team may be invited to play with the “A” team or vice versa.  Players may only play for one team per day except goal keepers who are allowed to play in two games. 


CSL also allows loan players, but players may only be lent to an age-appropriate team in a higher competitive bracket.  (For example, a Silver player may play with a Silver Elite team, but not vice versa).  Players may only play for one team per day and teams may borrow a maximum of five players per game.  Players may not be loaned for League Cup competition.


ECNL teams may have a few Discovery Players from non-ECNL clubs on their rosters. Discovery players do not necessarily attend practices but can play in all ECNL games as well as games with their non-ECNL club.



Every club player must have a player card to compete.  In Southern California most club players have cards issued by Cal South.  Some tournaments and leagues require a player card from US Club Soccer instead.  In order to get a player card, club registrars require a signed medical release form, a picture and an original birth certificate.

Coaches also have cards with their ID number and coaching license.  Mangers also have cards, but they are not allowed to coach unless they have completed the coaching license training.  Coaches and Managers must have been live scanned in order to get a card.


Each official club game played will have a match report listing all the players, their ID numbers and jersey numbers.  Referees use the match reports to check in players and record scores and cards.


Players receive “cards” as a caution for certain behavior.  A yellow card is a warning and a red card is an ejection from the game.  If a player receives a red card they must leave the pitch immediately and the team plays one player short.  Two yellow cards equal a red card.

Yellow card infractions- dissent, delay of game, unsporting behavior (this is a long list but includes tripping, rough play, faking an injury, not respecting distance)

Red Card Infractions- two yellow cards or violent conduct or intentional obstruction of a goal.  Goalies can receive red cards, but are the team is allowed to substitute a goalie.

FORFEIT | Not playing a game

Usually a forfeit happens when either a team doesn’t have enough players to play (5 for U9/U10 and 7 for U11 and above) or when someone forgets the player cards.  (What a bummer!!)

REFEREES | Game Officials

Each club game has at least one referee and usually three.  The center referee is “in charge” and officiates most of the game.  The Assistant Referees or Line Referees stand on each sideline and are especially looking for balls that go out and offside violations.  Teams split the referee costs for league games.  Referees must be registered through the USSF and have completed the live scan if over 18.

OFFSIDE POSITION | Rules of the Game

The offside rule is one of the most incorrectly called by referees, players and parents alike.  A player is in the offside position if he/she is ahead of the last defender when the ball is kicked.  The offside call should only be made if that player in the offside position becomes involved in the play.  There is no offside call if a player receives the ball from a corner kick, goal kick or throw-in, but it does apply with an indirect or direct free kick.   If offside is called, the defending team gets an indirect free kick from the spot of the offense.  A goal scored by a player in the offside position does not count.  This rule can lead to lots of screaming on both sides of the field!


Many people refer to “The Forum” and are talking about  I’ve written a whole post on it-click here to read it!   I’m sure there are forums throughout the nation that are similar, but this one is specific to Southern California with a little bit of Arizona thrown in.  Watch out- it can be addictive!


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