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ECNL Sep 14, 2012

ECNL executive director Jay Howell discusses changes for 2012-13

By Jimmy LaRoue

Elite Clubs National League executive director Jay Howell, who also serves as the coach of the Richmond Strikers Under-16 ECNL girls team and the club’s ECNL director, said he is excited by the new format which allows for more conference play among teams in the 2012-13 season.

“The biggest change is that there’s conference play,” Howell told soccerwire.com after coaching his U-16 girls to an opening day win. “There’s no more A and B flights, so you’re truly playing within your conference. Every game counts the same and every game is going to count toward what you’re going to be doing later in the season, so I think that changed everything. The beginning of every year, every team starts fresh, and so everybody has a chance. Every game you go into a week, it matters.

“It’s also nice that because we have a fuller schedule, we don’t have as many games in as short amount of time, so in the Mid-Atlantic, we’re basically able to play over the next six, seven weeks, only games on Saturdays, so it’s nice. You only have one game a weekend, and then you prepare for the next game.”

The showcases remain intact, though, with events in Phoenix (Sept. 29-Oct. 1), Sanford, Fla. (Dec. 28-30), Frisco, Texas (Feb. 22-24, 2013), San Diego (Apr. 5-7, 2013) and Zarephath, N.J. (May 25-27, 2013), with the national playoffs in Aurora, Colo. from June 21-23 for all U-15, U-16 and U-17 teams.

There are also separate U-14 regional showcases across the country–in Phoenix, Seattle, Rockford, Ill., Richmond, Va., Frisco, San Diego, Greer, S.C. and Aurora.

“We’re very, very proud of our showcases,” Howell said. “I think we’ve done a very nice job with that. [ECNL commissioner] Sarah Kate [Nofsinger] does an unbelievable job getting that organized. We’re excited about going to Phoenix, we’re excited about going to Sanford here in the next four months.”

He believes the league is poised to become even stronger.

“The level of competition is getting better,” Howell said. “I think everybody’s adjusting to the game, and I think we’re extracting, truly, the best players in their areas. Now, are there still some players outside the ECNL that are very strong and do a great job? Of course. But I think generally, right now, I think that we have most of the best clubs and most of the best players playing in the ECNL, which is a challenge for everybody.”

He said, too, that the league has a lot equally strong teams.

“In any league, NFL, NBA, whatever, you’re going to have a bottom end,” Howell said. “They’re going to have to go and fight every weekend. I think you’re going to have that in the ECNL. I think the middle section of the league, there’s a ton of parity in that section.

“And that might be, maybe, 60 teams, 50 teams. In every age group, there’s always two or three or four clubs that are the class of the age group, so I think it works that way. But I think that there’s more parity now in the ranks than ever before.”

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