Your athlete is at the age in their soccer career where they must decide between playing for a DA, ECNL, or Competitive team. What is the best soccer path for your athlete? What are their soccer goals? Play soccer with their friends? Play soccer in college? Become the next Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado ECNL) or Lindsay Horan (Colorado Rush ECNL) and make the U.S. Women’s National Team? This decision might be simple, they may not have the ability or desire to play at the top level and simply want to play with friends and compete each Saturday.
The decision becomes more complicated if they are a top-level soccer player, entering high school, play a 2nd or 3rd sport and/or want the opportunity to play in college. If some or all of these apply to your athlete, then it is important to understand the differences between DA, ECNL, and a competitive team. Is there a difference in cost, commitment, level of play? Does one require more travel? If you have not gone through the process, these are some of the questions you will want answered.
Let’s keep it simple. DA and ECNL are now available for both girls and boys. The age requirements and clubs who offer DA and ECNL are different for each state.
Our goal is to outline the differences between the three options. Our intent is to provide the facts and remove our personal opinion on what we believe is the best option for the athlete – we will save our opinion for a later blog post.
DA: Development Academy – everything you need to know about DA
Until recently the US Soccer Development Academy (DA) was the only available for boys and was not an option for girls. This year US Soccer started the girls DA program and ECNL started a boys program. The inaugural season for girls DA is Fall 2017. If a club has a DA program, they must offer it for all age groups available to play DA.
ECNL: Elite Clubs National League – everything you need to know about ECNL
Until recently ECNL was the only available for girls and was not an option for boys. Once US Soccer started the girls DA program ECNL started a boys program. The inaugural season for Boys ECNL is Fall 2017.
“Competitive” is what your athlete has been playing ever since they tried out for a club team. Competitive generally starts at U11 and continues through high school. Competitive teams play other teams within their city/state and will generally travel to one to two tournaments a year.
Quality of Coach for DA, ECNL, Competitive
The quality of a coach can be very different, extremely subjective, and is not directly correlated to the level in which they are coaching. DA will presumably have coaches with the most experience and licenses.
The reality; quality is related to how many teams they are coaching (2+ teams for a coach and the quality is diminished), style of coaching, expertise (defense, offense, technical, tactical) skill of the athletes. There are no formal evaluations, parent/club reviews and overall rankings to truly understand the quality of a coach.
Okay here is an opinion: This needs to be fixed, evaluation and review is missed in youth soccer. There needs to be a way to properly evaluate a coach. How the coach interacts with the players, technical and tactical expertise, player evaluation, trainings….
Quality of Players on a Team
Clubs offering DA, ECNL, and Competitive will have their DA team as the top team, ECNL as the 2nd team and competitive as the third team. The number of athletes for each age group will determine the quality of players and roster depth on each team. DA will have the top 18-22 players, ECNL will have the next best 18 players and the remaining will form the competitive teams. There are exceptions, a top player may want to play for their high school team and decide to play ECNL instead of DA.
Quality of Competition
How good the competition is for DA, ECNL and Competitive is very similar to the aforementioned quality of players on a team. Clubs offering DA, ECNL, and competitive teams will have their DA team as the top team, ECNL as the 2nd team and competitive as the third team. There are exceptions, but it is safe to assume the best competition will be the teams at the DA level. The competition at the ECNL level should be very good, there will be boys and girls that make their Development Academy team but choose ECNL. The competition at the competitive level will be the lowest based on the talent level for ECNL and DA. Your athlete will generally find the best competition playing DA or ECNL.
Run By US Club Soccer
Available for athletes that play for a club that has an ECNL team
- Goal: Develop players that want to play soccer in college and at the next level
- Cost: $5,000 -$7,000 per year (cost varies from club to club and based on travel). ECNL is significantly more expensive than competitive soccer and Development Academy.
- High School Sports: Athletes are Allowed to play other high school sports.
- Travel: Required generally 1-2 times per month. Based on the number of ECNL teams within their region. The more in state teams the less plane travel.
- Tryouts: Required
- Path to play in college: Yes, college scouts attend games and tournaments. This has been the leading recruiting system for college coaches.
- Commitment: Athlete can commit to play for their high school soccer team. Once the season is over they start play with their ECNL team.
- Season: Girls play in the Fall & Boys play in the Spring
- Games: Play other ECNL teams in their region. Regions are a minimum of 3 states. Teams may travel to another state to play a single game.
Conference Map For Girls
Conference Map For Boys
Run by US Soccer
Available for athletes that play for a club that has a DA team
- Goal: Develop world class players with the intent to play with The National Team at various age groups
- Cost: $3,500 per year (some costs paid by US Soccer)
- High School Sports: Athletes are NOT Allowed to play high school soccer or other high school sports.
- Travel: Required, 10+ times per year based on the number of DA teams within their region. The more in state teams the less plane travel.
- Tryouts: Required
- Path to play in college: Yes, college scouts attend games and tournaments. US Soccer representatives attend each game and submit a report on players and game details.
- Commitment: 10 months/Year 30+ games September – July. US Soccer has mandated Athletes can’t play for their high school soccer teams.
- Games: Play other DA teams in their region. Teams may travel to another state to play a single game.
- Season: Year round schedule with breaks in between. Follows a schedule set by US Soccer.
Run by state youth soccer association
Athlete plays for a club
- Goal: Develop Players
- Cost: $1,600 per year (varies from club to club and based on travel)
- High School Sports: Allowed
- Travel: 1-2 tournaments a season – Usually travel for a Showcase tournament
- Tryouts: Required but they will make a team
- Path to play in college: Yes much more difficult but you can play in college. Athlete will need to work hard for a scholarship as scouts attend more Club games than High School games. Websites such as Hudl & CaptainU are websites that help athletes communicate with college coaches.
- Commitment: Athlete can commit to play for their high school soccer team. Once the season is over they start play with their competitive team.
- Season: Girls play in the Fall & Boys play in the Spring
- Games: Play other club teams in their area.
- Is it possible to get a college scholarship playing high school & club soccer?
- Will the US Soccer Development Academy or ECNL get your child to the World Cup? Only if they buy a ticket.
- Youth Soccer: Cost, Time, and Love – A Parent’s Perspective
- IF YOU ARE ABLE TO PLAY MULTIPLE SPORTS, DO IT!
- What Happened to the FUN in Youth Sports?