Guest Commentary: U.S. Soccer will have to get girls Development Academy perfect in order to improve on ECNL

By Skye Eddy Bruce,

Editor’s note: Skye Eddy Bruce is the founder of The Institute for Soccer Parenting, a former All-American goalkeeper, professional player and collegiate coach. Skye holds her USSF “B” License and USSF National Goalkeeper License and is a parent and coach educator. She has coached at all levels of youth sports from Under-5 recreation to the U.S. national team programs and currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Richmond Strikers Soccer Club. She can be contacted via email ( and her Twitter feed can be found here

When U.S. Soccer launched the Development Academy for boys in 2007, many people questioned the lack of gender parity involved in NOT also launching a girls Development Academy. At that time, U.S. Soccer said they decided not to simultaneously launch a girls version of the DA because of the fact that the U.S. Women’s National Team had long been ranked among the top five in the world.

Simply put, U.S. Soccer didn’t find it necessary.

Observant and acutely aware of deficiencies that the federation didn’t recognize or acknowledge in the structure of the nation’s youth development model for girls, a handful of experienced youth club directors created the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL).

+ READ: Find more ECNL news on

Much credit goes to the leadership of the ECNL for being willing to do what U.S. Soccer wasn’t willing to. Although certainly not perfect, since its inception in 2009, the ECNL has established a league where 80 to 90 percent of U.S. youth national team player pool competes, where the practice-to-game ratio is in line with Development Academy standards and where, importantly, every single game is ferociously competitive.

If you attend an ECNL National Showcase Event, you will be witness to a professional environment for the majority of our nation’s best female youth players and coaches. Hundreds of college and U.S. Soccer scouts are in attendance, just like you would witness if you attended a boys Development Academy national event.

Given the ECNL’s success, why does U.S. Soccer want to launch a girls Development Academy? Could the money be better spent elsewhere in the girls youth game?

U.S. Soccer is an organization known for its narrow, top-down approach to management. There is an underlying culture of plausible deniability at the federation, where officials talk about decisions that “U.S. Soccer has made” but no one is willing to claim responsibility. For instance, no one specifically could be contacted about the recent birth-year changes, and no one I have contacted with U.S. Soccer seems to know details about the girls Development Academy decision.

April HeinrichsAll we know about the girls DA launching is that just before the 2015 U.S. Soccer annual general meeting — shortly before the budget was approved — a line item for a girls Development Academy was added to the budget.

The recent reporting by SoccerWire about the launching of the girls DA is surprising because of the strong and collaborative relationship that currently exists between the ECNL and U.S. Soccer. Here’s what April Heinrichs, U.S. Soccer’s Women’s Technical Director, said about the ECNL in a interview:

“[The] ECNL has been a great partner for us. They are very open to feedback from us, and our interaction with scouting players, coaching education initiatives and that kind of thing. They basically took a great model [Development Academy] and mirrored it, without any of the resources that U.S. Soccer puts toward the DA. They’ve mirrored it with some good leaders who believed it was the right thing to do, and in a short time they’ve built it into something very good to compete in. We want to continue to interact with them.”

So, why the sudden and seemingly veiled change of heart?

From a strategic and managerial perspective, having similar organizational structures for the boys and girls programs makes good sense. Additionally, it’s important that U.S. Soccer continue to lead the world by providing comparable opportunities for our boys and girls national team programs. With so many instances of the lack of gender parity amongst the men and women – the USWNT having to cancel a recent game in Hawaii due to poor field conditions, or the Women’s World Cup being played on turf, for example – adding a girls DA is a good move.

+READ: Lingering questions link U.S. Women, Aloha Stadium and Aerosmith

If the establishment of the girls Development Academy is simply a move along U.S. Soccer’s path to gender parity, U.S. Soccer must step back and evaluate the move closely.


The girls deserve it.

While the news of a girls DA elicits a sentiment of “finally” on one hand, it elicits a sentiment of “oh no” on the other. A viable and successful league of that sort is already in place via the ECNL, so if they’re bound and determined to disrupt that, U.S. Soccer must be thorough and thoughtful in their planning to ensure an equally competitive environment. Additionally, there is an “oh no” sentiment created by the fear that the end result of introducing a girls Development Academy will be two weaker, watered-down competition platforms.

richmond-united-ecnl-jeffcupUnsettlingly, there are many indications that the U.S. Soccer’s introduction of a girls DA is a haphazardly approached project.

Just 18 months away from kickoff and:

  • U.S. Soccer has not had any communication with the ECNL
  • No public communications have been regarding a girls Development Academy, or its relationship to the NWSL
  • When top U.S. Soccer coaches and scouts are asked about the girls  DA, they have no information to provide because, as they put it, they have not been informed of anything from the administration of U.S. Soccer as to the specific plan.

If there is any dropoff in competition level with a transition from the ECNL to a girls Development Academy, it will be a further demonstration of U.S. Soccer’s pattern of lacking a thoughtful strategic process when making big decisions. Once again, it will cause people to question the quality and capacity of U.S. Soccer’s administrators.

The ECNL is already a close partner with U.S. Soccer and is, accordingly to their leadership, “open to more collaboration with U.S. Soccer.”

Why not create a league that is a U.S. Soccer and ECNL collaboration, put in place some new policies and programs if necessary, and establish a U.S. Soccer Girls ECNL Development Academy?

+READ: ECNL releases 2016 postseason overview, competition structure

With U.S. Soccer’s financial resources growing but inherently limited, and with the quality of the ECNL already established, would the money that was allocated in the 2016 budget be better spent developing more players and coaches and supporting families, rather than essentially re-creating the current ECNL infrastructure and possibly weakening the overall level of competition for our most talented girls?

WAGSQUAL-Broll-parentsI would imagine the parents of our best female youth players would MUCH RATHER U.S. Soccer use the money allocated in the budget to supplement their children’s travel expenses to ECNL Championship Events, to pilot an extensive educational program for female youth coaches – or even to create a model similar to the federation’s Bradenton Residency Program for the U-17 boys squad in Florida – rather than run the risk of a dropoff in competition level.

While U.S. Soccer’s move towards gender parity on the Development Academy front is commendable and welcome, if they are going to do this, they must DO IT RIGHT.

The nation’s most talented girls deserve the top-quality competition and the exceptional culture of player development and engagement they have become accustomed to through the ECNL. Anything else would  be a fiasco of epic proportions.

By | January 7, 2016 | 22 Comments | Tags: , , , , , ,


  1. Maurice Reeves says:

    In my area, the DA costs $2,020 for a year’s play, not including hotel and travel fees. You also have to participate in two club fund-raisers in addition to the $2,020. Our daughter’s club, the fees for NPL and ECNL come out to about $1900 – $2000 per year, also not including hotel and travel fees, so by my math, they cost the same.

    • shatibi says:

      Travel for every DA I know of is paid for, and it is the travel that by far and wide accounts for most of the difference. For example, since we are talking the region you are from, in Virginia, Richmond United’s boys’ DA program does not cost anything for travel, but the girls ECNL does. The reason is that the DA is subsidized by the MLS, and the ECNL is not. In fact, for a while, the DA was completely free, all while girls were paying upwards of $7000+ in expenses. That said, I don’t see why US Soccer and MLS can’t just collaborate with the ECNL program, rather than come in like a bull in a china shop.

  2. InTheDMV says:

    While I think the quality of play in ECNL is very good. I think the tuition and travel costs are not affordable for most families. So you end up not with a league that has the best players but a league the has the best players whose families can afford the financial and time commitment. I think this is the core motivation for a girl’s side DA, to try to provide better development opportunities to kids whose families are priced out of ECNL.

    • InTheDMV says:

      I should add that you could accomplish that goal by incorporating and expanding on the ECNL structure, as the author suggests. But currently ECNL is too small and too expensive.

    • Maurice Reeves says:

      I think it’s interesting that you mention fees when just about everywhere I’ve checked, fees for the boys DA is as expensive as ECNL. How exactly does the DA bring down costs in your mind?

      • InTheDMV says:

        Hi Maurice, it’s my understanding that ECNL costs differ dramatically from club to club but the DC United development academy is $1500 all in, including travel and uniforms. The local ECNL programs are approx $10,000 per year with travel and uniforms. Perhaps your local ECNL club is somehow different, subsidized in some way?

        • Maurice Reeves says:

          I’m not sure where that $10,000 figure keeps coming from, though I see it all over the place. Our club costs are not subsidized, and my sister-in-law, who lives in DC, said that her daughter’s club quoted $3500 for ECNL. She’s paying $2000 for club play and Super-Y so it seems like the costs reflect the area, but not to the tune of $10,000.

        • InTheDMV says:

          Hi Maurice, I bet I know the club in question and the $3500 does not include travel or uniforms (for which they charge almost $400)! One showcase trip to Florida can cost $1500 if you send one player and a parent. ( I just did this so I speak from experience) If you are doing 2 or 3 such trips a year plus travel for league play you can see your way to $10,000 pretty easily when starting from $3500.

        • InTheDMV says:

          Please don’t take this as an attack on the clubs that play in ECNL, I think they do a great job soccer wise. Just really expensive which turns many families off.

        • Maurice Reeves says:

          Understood, but I know kids that play DA for the boys, and they do a minimum of 5 tournaments a year, and if they go to Jeff Cup or the Disney Soccer Showcase, that’s in addition to the $2000+ they already paid. My point is that I think the $10,000 is too high, and the actual cost of the DA is probably low-balled most places. In reality, I think there’s more parity in cost than is actually talked about.

        • shatibi says:

          For the boys playing in Richmond United’s DA, also in VA, the travel is free. For the girls in their ECNL, travel is not free. That is where the majority of disparity comes from. The reason is that the MLS subsidizes the DA, and therefore provides enough supplement to make travel free. They do not subsidize the ENCL (although why no one has taken action on this disparity boggles my mind).

        • Maurice Reeves says:

          Okay, but that’s for DA teams that are subsidized by an MLS team. Not all are, as far as I know. Maybe that’s changed, but last I heard, if a team in PA wants to go to Jeff Cup they’re going to pay money to travel.

        • shatibi says:

          The MLS subsidizes the entire academy program, not any one club, so this is nationwide.

        • Charles Boehm says:

          Shatibi –

          What are you basing that statement on?

        • shatibi says:

          I asked why the boys didn’t have to pay for travel and the girls did. They said the boys are subsidized by the MLS and the girls are not.

          I’m just assuming they wouldn’t lie to me.

          And if it isn’t subsidized somewhere somehow, then why would that disparity exist? I find it hard to believe that they are doing it just because….

          That all being said, the fact remains: the goal of the DA is to be free, many of them are, those that aren’t by far and large don’t charge for travel (I actually looked up several DAs across the nation for that information, because I wanted to know if it was just the ones here or if that was widespread). And the fact remains, in every single ECNL I know of, the girls pay for travel.

          DC United in particular gives money to its own DA program, as case in point.

        • shatibi says:

          And as InTheDMV pointed out, I’m not saying this as an attack. I’m just pointing out how cost prohibitive playing the ECNL can be. Who can afford $7000+ a year, especially if you have more than one child?

  3. soccernyc says:

    Are you aware of the enormous costs to play in the ecnl? Also not sure everyone would agree its an overwhelming success. It’s a for profit, closed league, with questionable level of accountability. There is plenty of room for US Soccer to do better … But I do agree we should be skeptical

    • Maurice Reeves says:

      Enormous cost? My daughter plays on an NPL team this year, but we looked at the cost of different teams, and we actually saved money playing NPL versus a team that was just playing in PAGS and was part of USYS. Also, the cost of the boys DA in our area is about the same cost as playing in the ECNL. So I’m not sure why you’re bringing that up as some counter to the author’s points.

      Furthermore, I’m not sure what mean by ECNL having a questionable level of accountability. Can you explain?

      • shatibi says:

        Travel for every DA I know of is paid for, and it is the travel that by far and wide accounts for most of the difference. For example, since we are talking the region you are from, in Virginia, Richmond United’s boys’ DA program does not cost anything for travel, but the girls ECNL does. The reason is that the DA is subsidized by the MLS, and the ECNL is not.

  4. MoeLaneisQueer says:

    US Soccer is making a really bad move here, unless their vision for the Academy is exactly what the ECNL does, in which case why do they need to create their own league? Doesn’t sound like this was very well thought out

  5. kwahraps says:

    Failed to mention that the Richmond Strikers are an ECNL club….

  6. #1Fan says:

    Good luck. Huge undertaking.

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