ECNL and US Club Soccer shake-up US with new national youth competition

By Paul Nicholson

May 30 – The Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) and US Club Soccer have combined to launch a new national competition platform for boys that will challenge the national US Academy competition that the US Soccer Federation has been promoting to clubs across the country.

The new competition – the Elite National Premier League (ENPL) – will be for U-14 to U-18/19 boys beginning in August 2017 and will be played as a local and regional season competition with national showcase events and a post-season play-off competition.

ECNL already runs a very successful women’s league that is has been the backbone of the development of the women’s game in the country. The US Soccer Federation (USSF), a main beneficiary of the talent produced in that competition, has recently launched its own girls Academy competition.

The ENPL will be a direct and very robust challenge to the USSF’s fledgling boys Academy system that has proved to be controversial in many regions due to the restrictions it puts on players and the unsettling effect it can have on youth clubs and their player recruitment.

The ENPL will be open to member clubs and member leagues providing club and team-based entry to age-group competition. US Club Soccer is the biggest youth member organisation in the US – far outstripping the USSF in terms of its grassroots reach.

US Club Soccer Board of Directors Chairman Phil Wright said that the new competition will create a pathway for youth players and will support USSF programmes. In reality, it could swamp them as on the face of it the new league looks more broad-based and inclusive than the USSF Academy programme.

“By working together, US Club Soccer and the ECNL showed that the first priority of both organizations is to build better programs for players, leagues and clubs to improve the daily environment for everyone. The ENPL will provide a great pathway for players and teams across the country and is another example of our commitment to support U.S. Soccer and its programs,” said Wright.

The ENPL will be an independent non-profit organisation with a membership-based leadership and governance structure.

“The creation of the ENPL is a ground-breaking moment for soccer in this country,” said ECNL President Christian Lavers. “The collaboration between US Club Soccer and the ECNL to create this platform will ensure an absolute top-class competition and atmosphere, and will leverage the expertise, leadership and resources not only of these national organizations but of every member of the platform. With the ECNL for girls and now the ENPL for boys, we will have a fantastic development and competition platform for top players across the country in both genders that is collaboratively led, managed and supported by DOCs, coaches and leaders with expertise in grassroots soccer.”

US Club Soccer has recently launched its Players First iniative – a holistic and practical programme that focuses on enabling the development of youth football through “the five pillars of Players First: Club Development, Coaching Development, Player Development, Parent Engagement & Education and Player Health & Safety.”

The organisation has a technical partnership with Spain’s la Liga with the aim of identifying and developing elite players through coaching (rather than winner-takes-all competition). The objective is cultivate a group of US qualified players that can compete at the highest level and consistently on the world stage – something that the current US system, despite its huge youth system, has been unable to do in the male game.

Kevin Payne, CEO of US Club Soccer: “The core of US Club Soccer’s mission is to foster the growth and development of clubs to create the best possible development environment for players, and we are confident the ENPL will offer a tremendous new opportunity for boys players, teams, leagues and clubs. This is a significant step in continuing to raise standards and quality across the country.”

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