A press release came across my inbox the other day. It was about ECNL’s new boys’ conference in Northern California. The next day, I was on the phone with Christian Lavers, ECNL President, to learn more about ECNL’s new partnership with NorCal Premier Soccer.
ECNL partners with NorCal Premier Soccer
I asked Lavers if he could explain the new partnership for the casual club soccer parent. “Sure,” Lavers replied, “NorCal Premier Soccer is a long-time, and very big, youth league in Northern California. They are part of the NPL, and have been sanctioned by US Club Soccer for more than 10 years. ECNL Boys is creating a new conference in Northern California similar to our other conferences across the country, but this conference will have a unique promotion and relegation connection to the NorCal Premier Soccer League.”
Promotion / Relegation
“Every year, the top club in NorCal Premier’s NPL division will playoff against the bottom club in the ECNL Boys Northern Cal Conference. Promotion and relegation is a core concept in NorCal’s league, and we have agreed to incorporate it in this way into our club-based system in the ECNL Boys in Northern Cal. It raises the stakes and the level of the game for everyone, and is a great example of collaboration and compromise in the best interest of the game between youth soccer organizations.”
Why another league?
I asked Lavers, while wearing my cynic hat, “Why does California need another league?”
With a bit of a chuckle, Lavers answered, “Sure. There seem to be a lot. But we offer something different. Boys ECNL started in 2017 and is in its third year. It started because there were a lot of clubs across the country that felt they didn’t have the platform they wanted for their top-level boys teams. There was a need, and DOCs were saying the leagues out there at the time were not giving them what they need. There were enough people and enough of a groundswell that we felt that the time was right for something new. We had 50-60 clubs in our first year. Will will have over 100 next year. We are clearly filling a need that was out there, and believe we are helping provide a better experience for clubs, coaches, and players.”
“NorCal is a great example of bringing together things that were separated. Our ECNL Boys Conference in NorCal will provide more clarity, and a clearer pathway for boys who want to progress up the soccer pyramid.”
“When players are in a platform they’re excited about, it shows on the field. It raises the level of the youth game.”
Lavers continued, “The growth of the league in interest and participation has been tremendous. But more importantly, the quality of play on the field has increased every year. When players are in a platform they’re excited about, it shows on the field. It raises the level of the youth game.”
The gap between competitive club and DA programs
I asked Lavers about the difference between DA programs and competitive club systems. He answered, “There are a lot of markets that don’t have a DA, and there are good players in those markets that need a place to play. There are also a lot of great players in DA markets who want to play high school, or who are in a great club that is not in the DA, and they also want something different. They need a place to play, too, where they feel like they’re getting great competition and exposure. That’s what the ECNL Boys conferences are providing.”
“On the girls’ side, ECNL has been very successful for over a decade now. The ECNL Boys are on the same trajectory. We provide something for clubs, coaches, and players who want more, who want a club-based platform, who demand higher standards, and who want an integrated platform of competition, showcasing, player identification, education, and more. Being excited about their soccer and where they are playing raises the level of play. It’s great to see.”
ECNL’s high standards and opportunities
In order to join ECNL, a club has to go through a rigorous application process. I asked Lavers about the standards required for ECNL participation. He answered, “We are a club-based league, not just individual teams. We can hold higher standards across a club in many areas because of that. Our national events providing a really exciting atmosphere, and the players really look forward to those. There are great player ID opportunities available for top players through ECNL Boys, like the ICC Futures event, the Conference Selection Programs and National Training Camp, where we took players to the Bahamas the last two years, and the new Super Cup program. Top level players really get motivated by those opportunities.”