It’s War- ECNL vs DA


Wow, has it been an interesting year so far for girls club soccer.  Yep, yet again things have gone crazy for the girls and it’s now developed into an out and out turf war across the country between ECNL (Elite Clubs National League) and DA (The US Soccer Development Academy).

I won’t go too far into the history of both of these programs, but here’s a snippet from both websites.

“The ECNL was founded in 2009 by forward-thinking Directors of Coaching across the country who saw a need for change in and special commitment to improving the daily environment for American elite female youth soccer players.  These Directors came together and collaborated to build what would become the top female youth development platform in the world.”  History | ECNL

“Following a comprehensive review of elite player development in the United States and around the world, U.S. Soccer created the Development Academy in 2007. The Academy Program’s philosophy is based on increased training, less total games, and more meaningful games using international rules of competition. The Academy has recently expanded programming to include a Girls’ Development Academy that will begin in Fall 2017.”  What is DA? | US Soccer Development Academy

I don’t know the whole backstory, but I do know as the DA was forming they engaged in talks with the ECNL, an existing highly successful national league for girls.  Obviously, they couldn’t come to any sort of agreement, so instead of building upon the existing ECNL platform, US Soccer created a mirror of their existing boys DA to create the Development Academy for girls.  In turn, ECNL for boys is also in its inaugural year.  Hmmm…

This season, the two have co-existed with many clubs having both DA and ECNL teams.  The chart below shows some of the obvious differences along with some very important items such as patches and game day drinks 🙂

However, as the year progressed, other, more subtle, differences began to appear… College coaches loved the ECNL showcase format and didn’t seem as happy with the longer DA showcases that had age groups all playing at the same time, ECNL focused on the needs of girls and US Soccer seemed bent on continuing their program without always listening to the clubs.  ECNL focuses on fun and female empowerment, while DA is all business.  DA provides game video for all games allowing coaches to use it for teaching purposes and players to use it for creating highlight videos while ECNL does not (yet!). 

It seems that the two are no longer willing to peacefully co-exist and are now staking their claims in different parts of the country and it’s changing daily.  Across the country, some clubs are proclaiming, “We’re all in for ECNL” and dropping their DA programs.  However, in Texas and Southern California, the two traditional hotbeds for girls soccer, several clubs have had to make the choice between ECNL and DA and have chosen DA.  Seems that ECNL will continue to make clubs choose as the years go by and will continue the rivalry.  

Who are the potential losers in all this?  Yep, it’s the girls! Seems like there could be some sort of compromise, but apparently this is the new landscape where certain parts of the country ECNL will again rule and other parts the DA will dominate.  So far, it seems that ECNL has been the aggressor, but will the DA force its hand by only selecting girls for National Team pools from DA clubs?  Only time will tell…

L played ECNL last year and is currently finishing her first year in the Development Academy.  She loves DA and wants to continue because she wants to play at the highest level and because she thinks it will help her get to her goal of playing D1 soccer.  It’s been amazing to see the number of college coaches and US scouts that have watched her team play this year. But, although she is a kid who is extremely committed to both soccer and academics, it’s not likely she’s going to be called up to a National Team any time soon.  

L has made it clear she wants to continue to play DA, but the mom in me mourns a bit for the focus on fun and “girl power” that she had in ECNL.  Will she look to me when she’s older and ask why we let her give up her so much for soccer?  Will she regret not playing High School soccer? Or will she treasure the team camaraderie, travel and hard work? Who knows?  I sure don’t.  Right now, we are letting her make her own decisions.

What are your thoughts??  

Want some more reading? As always, I’m not an expert, just a mom on the sidelines who likes to write, so please do your own research!

Advice to a first-year ECNL parent (Guest post from 2016- pre Development Academy)

USSDA for Girls- First Impressions

Illinois’ Eclipse Select SC is the latest club to leave Girls’ Development Academy

USSDA Winter Showcase 2017

ECNL Phoenix Showcase 2016












2 thoughts on “It’s War- ECNL vs DA

  1. Thanks for the comparison! Our kids haven’t been old enough to play in either but I’ve talked to parents here in KC who have struggled with the decision.

    I’m sure it depends on who you talk with but I’ve heard parents both praising and criticizing the organizations. What makes it so tough is that you’re committing a whole year of your kids life so it’s tough to take a “wait and see” approach. One dad I talked with had a daughter who was so unhappy playing in the DA that he pulled her off the team even though they’d already dropped a bunch of money. Luckily they released his daughter so she could go play somewhere else.

    I agree, it seems it’s always the players who lose out. Whether it’s coaches fighting in a club, clubs clashing in a city, or leagues competing across the country it seems too often it’s with the primary interest of the coaches or clubs in mind and not what’s best for player development.

    1. Agree…it’s a hard one! It’s our kids who really lose in the end… thanks for reading and commenting!

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