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ECNL and the National Showcase Event in San Diego
ECNL and the National Showcase Event in San Diego | Christian Lavers, ECNL's National Showcase Event in San Diego

ECNL National Showcase in San Diego

Youth Soccer News:  A Chat about ECNL and the National Showcase in San Diego with Christian Lavers, ECNL President

The Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) was founded in 2009 and has been highly successful at changing the landscape for elite female soccer players in the United States. While making sure soccer is fun, the ENCL also has enabled true national competition along with a clearer process for identifying elite female soccer players. SoccerNationNews interviewed Christian Lavers at the National Showcase held in San Diego, CA March 31-April 2, 2012. More than 6,000 hotel rooms were booked for this successful soccer event.

SNN: How many teams participated in the ECNL Soccer Tournament this weekend?

Christian Lavers: Approximately 150 teams came to San Diego to participate in the ECNL tournament held at the Polo Fields in Del Mar. We’re excited to be at the San Diego Polo Fields – it’s just a great place to be.

SNN: How did you select San Diego for your soccer tournament?  

Christian Lavers: San Diego is a beautiful city. Everybody is excited to come to San Diego. The Polo fields are great and this is a great place to plan a tournament in early spring.  You certainly can’t hold a tournament in Milwaukee or on the East Coast in the beginning of April.

SNN: Were people happy to come here when you picked the location?

Soccer Nation News on ECNL National Showcase in San Diego
Megan Ramey from Cornell University chats with Lane Davis of UNBC are two of the hundreds of college coaches who attended the ECNL National Showcase in San Diego to scout players. Coach Ramey said, "This is the best event for player identification."

Christian Lavers: Of course. That’s one of the things we look at when we pick locations, we want to go somewhere that people are going to be excited to come to. It’s expensive to travel, and the soccer is the main reason for the trips, but we want the event to be someplace where the families and the players are also excited to be.

ECNL National Showcase attracts top college coaches and scouts and to be able to hold the event in San Diego at the Polo Fields with somebody like Mike Connerley, the Director of the Surf Cup, helping us make the event successful, it’s a real win-win for us in every way. 

SNN: What was it like working with Mike Connerley?

Christian Lavers: Mike Connerley is terrific. Obviously he and his team have a great reputation for what they’ve done with the Surf Cup and the quality of the events they run.

He’s had so much experience; watching him direct and produce a tournament - he has so much experience, it’s like clockwork.  The quality of our ECNL event will be significantly better thanks to Mike and his team.

SNN: Are you going to come back to San Diego next year?

Christian Lavers: We hope so. We would love to. We just have to figure out the final costs and all the logistics after this event. Then, we’re going to be turning our attention immediately to 2013's National Showcase.

SNN: Tell us about your idea of launching the ECNL ... and why it has been so successful.  

Christian Lavers: This is our third year. We never expected to be where we are in such a short period of time. I think the credit goes to our youth clubs, US Club Soccer and so many individuals who contributed to making ECNL a reality. In 2009, we presented a five-year plan to our clubs and today we are years ahead of schedule.

Soccer Nation News on ECNL National Showcase in San Diego Soccer Nation News on ECNL National Showcase in San Diego

One of the reasons for ECNL's success has been the clubs' support, it has been tremendous. The DOCs and the Technical Directors are the people that interact with the players everyday; they’re the ones in the trenches, at the grass roots level. Their support of ECNL has been one of our biggest strengths.

We try to make ECNL the best developmental environment for players and club-friendly. 

Soccer Nation News on ECNL National Showcase in San Diego
Coaches all praised ECNL tournament highly. Platini Soaf (right) said "The ECNL Showcase is excellent for player development and visibilty."

We listen to our DOCs and give them the opportunity to contribute and express their opinions and thoughts, and we use the best ideas we get from people around the country to make this league better.

SNN: What is it like, all working together as DOCs?

Christian Lavers: Great. I can’t overstate enough that we can have so many DOCs, so many Type-A personalities; strong-willed, independent people, and we can put them all in a room together and have people’s opinions respected. The ECNL has open discussions and then we walk together forward creating and implementing new ideas.

Obviously not everybody is going to be happy with every decision we make, but I think the fact that we have a very transparent and have an open forum helps. It’s been a great three years and we’re excited where we’ve been and where we’re going.

SNN: Why did you launch ECNL?

Christian Lavers: U.S. Soccer significantly improved youth soccer by launching the Development Academy. But this only applied only to the boys’ game.

Launching the Development Academy addressed a lot of issues that were prevalent in the game. For example, too many total games being played and not enough high-quality, competitive matches. There was not enough emphasis on player development and training.  Youth soccer was divided and people were going in 15 different directions. US Soccer came and created a clean the slate with a new format of competition and basically raised the expectations of clubs, players, and coaches. The launch of the Academy basically raised the level of play.

SNN: What about female youth soccer players?

Christian Lavers: Exactly. 

I was part o FC Milwaukee Nationals's Development Academy and saw firsthand what the impact was on the players. The Academy resolved lot of the issues. So those of us who worked in the girls’ game, or worked both boys and girls, got together and said, “these same issues exist on the girls’ side and we should do something to improve the situation.”

It became apparent that the best way to enhance the girls’ side of youth soccer and get quick, or at least short-term, change was for us to come together and try to put a plan together working as clubs. We have followed the Academy’s blueprint on many issues and not on others because the girls’ game is different.

SNN: Can you give me an example of how ECNL differs from the Development Academy?Soccer Nation News on ECNL

Christian Lavers: We haven’t fully implemented the substitution rule changes, for example; we’ve introducing this gradually.

SNN: Why?

Christian Lavers: The substitution rule is a big change. We are just going slower. It’s the difference between slowly walking into the pool and just jumping in.

Another difference is that we do not combine two age groups like the Academy does. Combining the ages is great for player development, but it’s a difficult for clubs to implement because it changes the team structure.

SNN: How is ECNL similar to the Academy?

Christian Lavers: We have worked to improve the training-to-game ratio, where there’s more training to every game played.

We are trying to limit the number of games not by mandate but by trying to set up a competition schedule where clubs say “these are the best games we can possibly get – not only do we not need any additional games, we don’t want to go to any additional games because these games are so good and so tough that we need to fill in the time between with trainings and recovery, not just playing competition after competition.”

SNN: ECNL is run by coaches, do you think this makes a difference?

Christian Lavers:  Yes. I make a joke once, if I stopped coaching today and in six months, if I started talking to soccer coaches, they’d tell me I don’t know what it’s like any more, that everything’s changed.

That’s just the reality of the soccer world.

I think people tend to be more open to those who have fought those same fights and are living that same existence.

So I think that does help a lot, that we can all sit there and say, “Hey if we’re going to make this change…” Nobody is saying, “Make this change and everybody else go and deal with it.” To be able to have people who are living in the same world come up with solutions for their world, I think makes it easier to implement those solutions.

SNN: What do you say when you hear people say ECNL is expensive?Soccer Nation News on ECNL National Showcase in San Diego

Christian Lavers: I think youth soccer is expensive if you’re playing on any team that travels and plays on a national level, and I think that’s just a fact.

We’d all like to find ways to reduce that cost, but there’s a certain economic reality you can’t avoid. We do a lot to try to lower costs. Our event fees, for example, are several hundred dollars cheaper per team than other tournaments.

SNN: So ECNL is not more expensive to join than other leagues?

Christian Lavers: No. The clubs joining ENCL pay a $4000 annual fee per club, and that fee covers the league administration, player identification program,  and the club’s expenses in the National Championship event.

SNN: So when people complain about the high costs of ECNL, they’re really complaining about the travel costs of competing at a higher level as opposed to just staying closer to home and competing in your region.

Christian Lavers: Yes, and I think the way we’re structured helps lower travel costs. Teams travel as a club in the ECNL and bringing several teams to the same spot helps save money. Clubs can bring fewer coaches so there’s less of a travel cost for the team.

It is important to remember that most of these highly competitive teams were doing this type of travel before they joined ECNL. 

Competitive youth soccer teams compete in at least two or three showcases across the country every year. These level showcases require air travel, car rentals and hotel accomodations.

In the ECNL, teams are making the same number of trips, but now the tournaments cost less and they’re traveling as a club. So I would say it’s a bit of a fallacy that belonging to ECNL is more expensive.

SNN: How many clubs participate in ECNL?Soccer Nation News on ECNL National Showcase in San Diego

Christian Lavers: More than 80 clubs applied to join ECNL this year. It’s good to see so many clubs want to be part of ECNL. We have 66 and have just added 7 new clubs.

SNN: Do you want to reach 100 clubs quickly?

Christian Lavers: No. We try to strike a balance between growing as a National League so travel costs are not terrible and being highly selective so not to water down the competition. And when we say the word “elite”, it’s not a nose-in-the-air snobbish type of elite, it’s trying to hold a standard of competition so that the players who play at that level are getting a challenge every day and get better every day.

SNN: Does ECNL require a specific number of teams to participate?

Christian Lavers: Yes. Clubs have to have a team at every age group U14, 15 16, 17 and 18. We do not accept one-off teams. We don’t accept clubs that only have two or three or four out of the five age groups; you have to have a team at every age group.

This is fundamental to our philosophy and US Club Soccer’s philosophy. It shows that clubs are built properly to develop soccer players. We think a healthy club environment creates better player environment. 

ECNL has made a dramatic impact of youth soccer and the National Showcase in San Diego has been very successful with hundreds of top quality coaches attending and scouting for players. John Daly, Head Woman' Coach from William & Mary said is simply, "ECNL is wonderful."

Current list of ENCL Clubs:

Albertson Fury Arsenal FC Atlanta Fire
Bethesda SC Birmingham United BVSC
Carmel United Carolina Elite Soccer Academy CASL Chelsea Ladies
Challenge SC Charlotte Soccer Academy Colorado Rush
Colorado Storm Concorde Fire Connecticut FC
Crossfire Premier D'Feeters Soccer Club Dallas Sting
Dallas Texans De Anza Force Eagles Soccer Club
East Meadow Eclipse Select Soccer Club FC Bucks
FC Dallas FC DELCO FC Milwaukee
FC Stars of Massachusetts FC Virginia Freestate Soccer Alliance
Gwinnett Soccer Association Heat FC Irvine Strikers
KCFC Las Vegas Premier SC Lonestar SC
Mclean Youth Soccer Michigan Hawks Minnesota Thunder Academy
Mustang SC Ohio Elite Soccer Academy Ohio Premier Eagles
PDA Penn Fusion SA Pleasanton Rage
Real Colorado Real So Cal Richmond Strikers
San Diego Surf San Juan Soccer Club SC Del Sol
Scorpions SC Sereno Soccer Club Slammers FC
So Cal Blues SC SoccerPlus Connecticut Sockers FC
Solar-Chelsea Soccer Club St. Louis Scott Gallagher TSC Hurricane
Utah Avalanche Vardar Virginia Rush Soccer Club
Washington Premier West Coast FC World Class FC

Please note: ECNL is not the only high quality option for players.  There are numerous championship teams that are not part of the ECNL.

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