What is ECNL?


One question that I hear very frequently is, “What is ECNL?” As usual, I’m not an expert, but I’ve done a great deal of reading and talked to quite a few people.  As always, it’s important to do your own research, but here’s a place to start…

Fast Facts:

  • ECNL stands for Elite Clubs National League
  • There are 77 clubs currently in ECNL
  • It is only for girls
  • ECNL teams participate in a two part league (fall/spring) as well as showcases and championships

ECNL stands for “Elite Clubs National League” and 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.  (quoted from the ECNL website)

The ECNL began in 2009 with 40 clubs participating and now in 2015 has 77 clubs with official competition starting at u14 and is for girls only.  Clubs are grouped into seven geographic conferences with conference results determining qualification for a ECNL post season.  Only three new clubs were accepted in 2013 and it doesn’t appear that the ECNL is looking to expand at a rapid rate.  No new So Cal clubs have been accepted- it’s still only Eagles, Real So Cal, Slammers, Strikers, West Coast, Blues, Arsenal and Surf.  Teams don’t earn their way into the league- the only way in is if you are on the top team at an ECNL club.  In California, second teams at ECNL clubs (and first teams of ECNL affiliates) participate in the EGSL.

ECNL Clubs participate in about 15-18 Conference/Cross-conference games, 5 National Showcase Events, and the National Championship Games in August.  Although some So Cal teams still play a few games in the SCDSL, the primary focus for these teams is the ECNL Conference.  Teams play in a two part conference season starting in the Fall and resuming in the Spring, taking a break for High School soccer.  (High School soccer rules prohibit players from playing in club games during HS season) In addition to the competition platform, the ECNL also runs a Player Identification Program for the National team, the Coach and Club Development program to share best practices and the HER Platform to promote female health and wellness.  

The official ECNL program starts at U14, but U12 and U13 teams can participate in a “Jr ECNL” program which consists of a Showcase and possibly a Spring League through EGSL.  There can be quite a bit of travel for the ECNL teams and although our Southern California teams have mainly local conference games, teams from Nevada and Arizona are a part of the So Cal Conference.  The National Showcase Events can be anywhere in the country as well as the National Championship Games.

Although ECNL events are only for ECNL clubs, teams are allowed to have “Discovery Players” – a player who is not a member of an ECNL club.  Right now, each team U14-U17 is allowed two discovery players who participate in all ECNL events with the ECNL team and then all other events with their home (non-ECNL) team. U18 teams are allowed 4 Discovery Players.  This can be a great opportunity for girls where distance or other restrictions prevent them from joining an ECNL club.

One thing that the ECNL does very well is marketing and social media.  Their “Amazing Young Women” campaign and hashtags on twitter, instagram and facebook  (#sassysunday, #motivationmonday, #beautifulambition) speak to our girls becoming strong, motivated and powerful athletes and women.  I really love this part of the ECNL and applaud their focus on empowering girls.

In Southern California the ECNL clubs are growing bigger and bigger with franchises extending across the state.  I wrote about this phenomenon here.  I’m not sure if parents understand that there is only ONE team per age group, per ECNL club that is the official ECNL team.  Several parents have told me misleading recruiting stories coming from a particular affiliate club that seem to be designed to confuse already confused parents.  Not cool.  I hope that what the parents shared with me wasn’t accurate, but….

This all points back to parents needing to be informed about the choices we make for our children (or daughters in this case) and doing the necessary research.  Although ECNL seems like it can be an amazing opportunity for girls,  there are also many different amazing opportunities from great non-ECNL clubs.  ECNL is not the only way to get a college scholarship and can be cost prohibitive for many families due to the extensive travel.  Obviously the needs and desires of each child and family differ and what is right for your child may be different than what is right for mine.  The good news is there are plenty of great choices…especially if you live in Southern California.

I’d love for anyone to share their personal experience with ECNL…

UPDATE 2017… The ECNL is currently going head to head with the new US Soccer Development Academy for girls.  It remains to be seen how this one will turn out.  There is also going to be the inaugural season in Fall of 2017 for ECNL for boys.


6 thoughts on “What is ECNL?

  1. Just curious, are you considering the ECNL route for either of your girls?

    I’ve tried to keep up on information about it and last year my daughter had a practice with an ECNL team (she was trying out for what I thought was a Flight 2 team, but turned out to be a combined group of an ECNL and a Flight 1 team) and some of those girls weren’t that much better than my daughter, but I didn’t (still don’t) think she was quite at the skill set yet. Plus that particular team was teaching the girls to play what I call “kickball” which is definitely not my daughter’s strong suit. She’s more of a multi-pass and run player.

    1. Hi Shannon-

      Yes, right now my younger daughter is on that track, but I’m not sure what the future will hold in the next few years. I have heard people comment that some of the ECNL teams play kickball and only look for the biggest, fastest and most athletic girls, but I don’t have any personal experience with that. My younger daughter’s team focuses on possession and passing (as far as I know!) but they are only U12 right now. Good luck finding the right fit for your daughter!!!

  2. I think ECNL has ruined opportunities for talented athletes. Financial and Geographic limitations prohibit a large talent pool from having the ability to play for ECNL teams. ECNL has made it easy for college coaches to simplify their recruiting process that is all. Many of the top tier D1 coaches go to and recruit from ECNL tournaments almost exclusively and may throw in a USYSA or NPL tournament here and there. Everybody loses out in the long run. I also believe ECNL will run out of steam. They play exclusively with other ECNL clubs and rarely pair up against Non-ECNL clubs. This shelters them from what’s going on around them and I see a lot of the Non-ECNL teams picking up talent and playing better soccer. I would bet money on SoCal’s Beach FC 98 against any ECNL team. As I would bet money on many Non-ECNL teams against ECNL counterparts!

    1. Interesting- I know many people feel the same, but there’s a very strong ECNL contingent. I agree about the sheltering aspect, but it all contributes to the “elite” perception. There are many ways to make it to college! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. Hi So Cal mom, my daughter just got accepted into an u-17 ECNL team in west coast of FL, however, due to life altering events, we may need to move back to So Cal, (Fwy 91/15 area) to be near gramps! I’m at a loss, as to which team and location near us. I read about the San Diego Surf team? I wonder how she can transfer and tryout! HELP, plz! Thank You!

  4. Well, San Diego would be around 85 miles away, 1.5 hours or so, I don’t mind driving, but if there’s anything closer, I will welcome it!!

Comments are closed.