Slammers FC was one of the most dominant girls’ clubs during the Girls Development Academy’s inaugural year. Surprisingly to many, Slammers FC then left the DA and returned to the ECNL (Elite Clubs National League). Why?
I recently spoke with Christen Press’s Slammers FC coach, Ziad Khoury about Christen’s years of youth soccer. Neither ECNL nor the DA existed when Press was playing with Slammers FC. “DA vs High School” is a hot topic, but Coach Khoury was quick to point out that high school soccer was an important reason for their DA departure, but it was not the only reason for their return to ECNL.
“We listened to our families. ECNL is a better fit for us.”
“We are very lucky to be in what US Soccer has identified as a ‘hot spot.’ [A ‘hot spot’ is an area where US Soccer knows that talent runs deep, and the best players are going to be found at a lot of different leagues and tournaments.] Southern California is a ‘hot spot,’ and we know that US Soccer scouts [led by Mirelle Van Rijbroek] will come to see our players. I know Mirelle. She’s great. She’s doing a great job overseeing talent identification.”
“We know that our players with National Team potential will still be scouted. I know that’s a luxury that players and families in other areas of the country don’t have, but we have to do what is best for our players and our families. We listened to our families and our players, and we decided that ECNL is a better fit for us.”
I asked if high school soccer was an important part of Slammers’ return to ECNL, since there has been a lot of debate on the topic.
“We believe high school soccer is important.”
Coach Khoury answered, “We believe high school soccer is important. Playing with and against players two and three years older and younger than you is important in development, and that’s something that the DA doesn’t allow. Learning and adjusting to different coaching styles is important for our players. It’s going to help them not only in their soccer careers, but in their adult lives, too. Our families see this as very important. And playing for your school, with your friends you see every day, is an experience we didn’t like taking away from our players.”
I asked Coach Khoury if high school soccer, which the DA doesn’t allow, was the only reason Slammers FC left the Girls DA.
“ECNL allows more college exposure right now”
“High school soccer is important, but there were a lot of reasons we left the DA. It was not a decision we took lightly. We really listened to our families. College soccer is very important to many of our families, and there are so many college soccer opportunities, especially for girls playing in Southern California. ECNL allows for more college exposure right now. That may change in the future, but right now, our girls are able to be exposed to a lot more college programs because they’re playing in the ENCL instead of the DA.”
“Should the DA adjust their stance on high school soccer?”
I asked Coach Khoury if he thinks US Soccer and the Development Academy needs to adjust their policies regarding players playing for their high schools. He was very quick to answer: “I listen to our families and decide what is best for Slammers players, and leaving the DA was the right decision for Slammers. I’m not part of US Soccer. There are great people there, and they’ve got a hard job. It’s not my place to tell them what to do. I worry about my players and what is best for Slammers. Just like finding the right college, the right team, the right job, there’s a best fit for everyone, and it’s different for everyone.”