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ECNL May 15, 2024

In first season, Northern Virginia Alliance ECNL teams building a playoff pedigree

By Sean Maslin
Published in Partnership with Northern Virginia Alliance

For American youth soccer clubs, finding success early is never easy. Building a philosophy and implementing it, finding players, and recruiting against already established clubs is a challenge. But doing so while playing in the ECNL against some of the top clubs in the country can be even more of a challenge.

Despite facing all of these obstacles, Northern Virginia Alliance has met them head on and surpassed them. In just their first season, the club born out of a strategic alliance between Loudoun Soccer and Virginia Valor FC have found themselves with six teams earning appearances in the ECNL National Playoffs across both their boys and girls divisions. With the season winding down, NVA’s Boys 2010, 2008, and 2007s and Girls 2009-2007 teams have all clinched playoff spots in the ECNL Playoffs. That number could grow to seven this weekend with their Boys 2009s still currently vying for a Champions League spot in their age group.

“It feels great,” said Northern Virginia Alliance Technical Director Maurice Hughes. “The players have certainly done a great service to our program, and we have come a long way in a short period of time. We are extremely proud of the effort that the players and the coaches have put in this year.”

Entering into their first full year (the partnership was announced in February 2023), the club’s technical staff placed a high level of emphasis on coordination of staff and additional development opportunities for players to help prepare them for the 2023-2024 season. During the 2022-2023 season, Loudoun placed three of their girls teams and four of their boys teams into the National Playoffs.

For Hughes and for NVA, the main focus has centered on creating an elite club identity that represents their player development pathway and competes at the highest levels in one of the most competitive regions in the country.

“NVA was really created to bring more balance between the way both of our programs run,” said Hughes. “So that’s really been a program focus that we’ve had all season. It’s making sure that how we go about supporting our players, on both girls and and the boys side, is as equal as possible but supports them in their own way.”

The club has also had a high level of success in their recruiting efforts, which has led to immediate dividends on the pitch. This has been accomplished in large part by focusing on providing players with a high level of support and ample training opportunities at some of the top facilities in the country. The club uses the INOVA Performance Complex (which is also used by D.C. United), as well as Loudoun Soccer Park and Hanson Park, giving players high-level playing surfaces to train and compete on.

Beyond the pitch, NVA’s strives to provide each player and their families with a high-level training and development experience. In year one, the club has increased the number of assistant coaches and support staff that are available at training and at games to help give players and coaches additional technical and tactical support. They have also worked on the collaboration between their Technical and Operational Staffs to ensure that the needs of their community are being met. Having a singular, consistent message has helped build their community in a short period and a standout in a soccer hotbed like Northern Virginia.

“Our club is trying to build a brand that represents excellence,” said Hughes. “We want to create a playing and learning experience for all of our players that are looking to achieve high success on the field and in life. Our parents are able to see that we really care about our players and that we put a lot into providing a great experience for our players from our training environment to college recruitment philosophy all the way down to our social media, which we feel is a very important representation of our players.”

Having both their boys and girls programs in the ECNL has certainly helped in their efforts in recruiting and retaining high-level players. “[The ECNL] is a league that’s second to none, ” said Hughes. “For us, it does exactly what we want. It gives us the most elite platform to play and to compete in, week-in and week-out, which is what’s going to give our players the best opportunity to develop as players and as individuals. It also provides college pathway opportunities for our players that want to play at that level. So the ECNL has embodied everything that we’re looking for as it relates to player development and college success opportunities for our players.”

In addition to their success on the field, NVA are providing a pathway into playing at the college level. Since the start of last season the club has had multiple players commit to playing in college, including: Taylor Wilson (Penn State), Luis Collantes (Marymount), Allison George (Maryland), DT Megliola (Binghamton), Maleeya Martin (Michigan State), Jordan Turner (Wake Forest), and Elizabeth Thornton (Wake Forest).

They are also providing players with a pathway into the national team system. Owen Bardales, Morgan Blelloch, Yannis Cardoza, Ariana Enderes, Valeria Fuentes, Kristin Henly, Emily Krichbaum, Mia McFarland, Emmeleia Ninou, Conor Ragsdale, Madelyn Ramirez, Kendall Schwanda and Marc Tchombou have all received USYNT ID Center invitations this season while Henly has also been called up to the U14 National ID Camp. The club has also had three players called up to play internationally for El Salvador: Valeria Fuentes (U-15), Julia Morales (U-17), and Bryan Marenco (U-20).

“The success of our players internationally has been something that has really started to evolve over the last year and a half,” said Hughes. “We’ve had quite a few players called into their youth national teams, which is obviously an extraordinary accomplishment. We want for our players to know that when they play for NVA that they will be recruited and seen by some of the best in the world.”

While Northern Virginia Alliance still has plenty to play for this season they have in just a short period of time turned a strategic alliance into a success.

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