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ECNL Mar 17, 2020

Paul Riley: Launch of U.S. Soccer Girls Development Academy Was Unnecessary

Paul Riley, the three-time NWSL champion from Long Island, New York by way of Liverpool England is the most successful professional women’s coach in U.S. history, and arguably the best anywhere in the world. What makes him extra special, and why everyone who cares at all about the sport for girls and women in the United States should listen when he speaks, is that he has also been at the grass roots level building youth clubs and developing players from the youngest ages longer than any player in the Development Academy or ECNL has been alive.

[+READ: North Carolina Courage, United Futbol Academy join ECNL for 2020-2021 season]

And he’s not some professional coach who used to coach youth. Despite coaching the Western New York Flash and North Carolina Courage to four straight NWSL Championship Finals (and winning three of them), as soon as the season ends, Riley is straight back to Long Island to spend the off-season working in his youth programs.

In short, Paul Riley knows womens and girls soccer in the United States top to bottom. And he has some seriously sage advice in Episode 21 of The Soccer Wire Podcast. Not the least of which is how we got here and what to do next when it comes to the conflicts and talent dilution that occured when U.S. Soccer decided to launch a Girls Development Academy back in 2016. Could a third super elite league that sits on top of both be the answer? 

+The SoccerWire Podcast | Paul Riley – Youth Player Development, NWSL Coaching, and National Team Future

Some key comments from Riley in this episode of The SoccerWire Podcast:

“The sad part for me is the decentralization of the players, the players have been scattered – the top players – and nobody knows which is the best league; some top clubs in [the Girls DA] and some top clubs in [Girls ECNL],“ explained Riley, who has teams in both the DA and ECNL with Albertson Soccer Club and FC Albertson Fury.

He goes on to share, “When the [Girls] DA stepped in, the ECNL was doing great, there was almost no need for it.” He continued on noting that “on the boys side, probably at the time [the Boys DA stepping in] was probably needed…to get some structure for the boys side” He continued on with “the girls ECNL kinda grew on its own and became a real formidable league…I think there was no need to mess with it but they did mess with it and what happened was all the clubs obviously thought it was a shiny new toy, everybody jumped in, and then everyone realized a year later that maybe this isn’t going to work”

Later on in the episode, Riley shares his belief that the youth soccer players in the U.S. are suffering developmentally and “the main thing is getting all the best players back together again, and getting them playing more against each other. And I think both of those things right now are not happening.” He almost feels that a third top flight league could be the answer, stating that “we need to get all the better clubs back together again. And need to get the better kids back together. And we need to do more for them.”

What do you think about the DA vs ECNL conversation? Do you think a third league would help or hurt the issues?

Let us know on social media or send us your thoughts privately here.

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