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The Student News Site of Thomas S. Wootton High School

Common Sense

ECNL: Positives, negatives of fastest growing youth soccer league in America

Sophomore+Aadi+Chaudhari+scans+the+field+during+his+ECNL+RL+game.
Photo courtesy Aadi Chaudhari
Sophomore Aadi Chaudhari scans the field during his ECNL RL game.

Elite Clubs National League, better known as ECNL, is regarded as a premier youth soccer league in the United States. It is often considered the top tier for girls’ youth soccer, and the second tier for boys’ youth soccer. The league consists of 128 girls’ clubs and 151 boys’ clubs. A club is an organization that consists of teams all under the name of the club. The league’s second tier, referred to as ECNL Regional League, houses 266 boys clubs and 253 girls clubs; a number that continues to grow.

On the girls’ side, ECNL is a recruiting goldmine for college coaches. According to FC Alliance, as much as 70% of ECNL moves on to NCAA Division 1 college soccer any given year. On average, around 90% of ECNL players move on to play college soccer in general. Physical education teacher and ECNL RL coach Tony Pykosh said that after talking to a college soccer coach, “For the most part all [the college coach] goes to is the ECNL events to recruit.”

One major complaint of youth soccer in the U.S. is that it’s a business, and therefore is run by businesspeople. Leagues like EDP or MLS Next are often thought to be money-makers and aren’t run by coaches, which is what makes ECNL so special. “It was created by coaches, it was designed by coaches,” Pykosh said.

As great as ECNL is, some issues can be extremely hard to look past. Rules in the league, and other leagues for that matter, negatively impact the coaches and players. “For ECNL one thing I don’t like is the substitution rules, so they can’t reenter that half. They should leave it to coaches to not sub every five minutes; you should be allowed to return in the same half,” Pykosh said.

The overall outlook of ECNL has begun to dwindle because of the increasingly growing number of teams. Players feel that the prestige of the league decreases as more clubs join because it’s supposed to be filled with only elite teams and players. “Some people can perceive ECNL as average just because of how many people and clubs are playing in it,” sophomore ECNL RL player Aadi Chaudhari said.

Players question how big of a difference the level of play is from ECNL to ECNL RL (the second tier). While there is no doubt a change in the level of play when you switch from the two, that change is smaller than most think. “The level of play and speed is a bit faster in ECNL compared to ECNL RL,” Chaudhari said.

The biggest discussion surrounding ECNL is the question of whether or not the league should introduce a relegation/promotion system. A relegation/promotion system means that teams that finish highly in a league that is second tier would get promoted to a league that is higher than them, and teams that finish poorly get demoted to the league below them. Despite all the talk surrounding it, no statement has been made by ECNL regarding the possible implementation of the system, however, players argue it’s not crucial for the continued growth and success of the league. “I do not think it’s necessary; you should just keep the two levels separate,” Chaudhari said.

In addition to the discussion of promotion and relegation, players argue that each club should only be allowed one team across the first and second tiers. Not only would this create an easy way of implementing a promotion/relegation system, but would also help improve the level of play. “Since some teams are not good enough to compete in both ECNL and RL. Placing only one team in either RL or ECNL is fair,” sophomore ECNL player Kevin Sun said.

Although college coaches are plentiful at ECNL events, it can be hard for players to get into contact with them. Because of how large the showcases are and how many different facilities and fields there are, it can be almost impossible to find a certain college coach you want to talk to. “Oftentimes at showcases, I would like to find some coaches simply to talk to them and gain insight. However, the coaches are often spread throughout multiple different complexes, which makes it hard to get in contact with them,” Sun said.

One complaint regarding premier youth soccer leagues in the U.S. is that the leagues feel like they have less personality than other ones. Although the system for these leagues may be fairer than other leagues like USYS, it lacks the excitement and thrill of having to get past several stages to make nationals. “Something that I do not like after moving from USYS/NL Pro to ECNL is not being able to get into USYS Nationals. First winning states, then moving to regionals and needing to win was an experience that I would never forget. However, for ECNL, making it to playoffs (their version of nationals) is purely based on regular season performance and record,” Sun said.

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About the Contributor
Chase Dolan, staff writer
Sophomore Chase Dolan is a staff writer in his first year on the Common Sense staff. In his free time, he enjoys playing and watching soccer. You can find him on Instagram @chasedolan1
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