It looks increasingly likely that the ECNL days are numbered. According to this SoccerAmerica article, ECNL leadership met with the U.S. Soccer Federation last week and was told that USSF can best raise standards at the elite level without ECNL.
The new Development Academy for girls will launch in 18 months, in August 2017, and will mirror the boys’ Development Academy structure.
I strongly suspect that USSF is going it alone because it gives them full centralized control over all aspects of elite girls player development. In general, it is much easier to rapidly make changes through a centralized structure.
Having to deal with a more collaborative structure where clubs have a say wouldn’t make it nearly as easy nor fast to make fundamental changes to training methods, selection processes, accreditation, league and tournament and showcase structures, etc.
Clubs compete, at times fiercely, often in a political environment. And while ECNL can, in principle, revoke membership if a club underperforms for too long, ECNL cannot force clubs to change coaching methods and styles of play or generally raise their standards before it becomes glaringly obvious.
And new ideas (for example, through coaches from outside the U.S.) might be threatening to some of the more established ECNL coaches that might also have quite a bit of political influence within ECNL.
In addition, maybe ‘winning games’, ‘keeping score’, and rankings play too big a role in ECNL, which doesn’t always help with player development.
So I can see why centralized control over how players are developed is very important to USSF.
‘Collaboration’ sounds good in an email or public statement and makes us feel good, but reality is probably much messier, especially when tough changes have to be implemented that threaten long-established stakeholders.
And the argument that “our WNT is dominating so don’t change” doesn’t take into account big changes coming globally to women’s soccer.
A nation’s federation needs to look ahead ten years or more and implement changes early enough to be well positioned for changes looming on the horizon.
For example, it is likely that the women’s game will become more technical and creative, driven initially by soccer powerhouses such as France and Germany who have recently woken up.
Our youth development has to adjust accordingly and that is easier to do in a centralized system, and probably also one less geared toward feeding colleges.
I predict that pretty much all of the ECNL clubs will apply for DA status and that the large majority of them will get it.
There will be new strings attached, of course, including a willingness to be dictated to and supervised by USSF, annual assessments and ratings, but the big clubs cannot afford to be excluded from this.
Curious to see if our MLS clubs jump into the girls side now also. Maybe USSF will mandate that any club with a boys’ DA also has to support a girls’ DA?
Note that many pro clubs in Europe, like Bayern Munich, now have women’s pro teams, but I’m not sure how much those pro clubs get involved in girls’ youth development.
And I’m wondering if the launch of this USSF controlled girls’ DA might also eventually give girls the opportunity to make the National Team without having to go through the college soccer system.
This is increasingly also the better option for boys if a soccer career is to be maximized. There are some differences between boys’ and girls’ longer-term financial prospects, so this isn’t clear-cut, but it’s worth discussing at least.
Anyway, these are my thoughts on what might be driving USSF’s decision. There should be a way to introduce the Girls’ DA and still have ECNL. ECNL might, for example, become a second-tier league for the top one or two teams in each age group, but excluding the DA players.
The next twelve months are going to be interesting.