Proud PDA rolls out welcome mat for nation’s top teams, college coaches at ECNL Showcase
By Charles Boehm
One of the guiding principles behind the founding of the Elite Clubs National League was the desire to bring the top girls’ club teams from across the nation into regular competition with one another in meaningful, high-quality matches.
The ideal implementation of that concept is an ongoing process, one routinely discussed and refined by the league’s leadership, but the wider vision was on full display at the ECNL National Showcase: Zarephath over Memorial Day weekend, with its packed slate of big games, high-octane atmosphere and massed ranks of college coaches.
“PDA is always one of the events you look forward to every year, because you’ve got the best players here, in the top league, in ECNL. It’s just a lot of fun,” said University of Michigan head coach and former U.S. Women’s National Team coach Greg Ryan. “You can go from field to field and see good players and good teams everywhere.”
ECNL players and coaches take notice of all those college scouts – and they also know that a place in next month’s National Championship week in Waukegan, Ill. can often be won or lost at the PDA event.
“This is the best weekend of the whole year, because there are so many games of importance. You’re trying to get in that top 16 [in the standings, to qualify for Waukegan],” said Ohio Elite coach Doug Bracken. “You really want to be at this event, because there are so many important games and I’ve seen tons of big games this weekend. This is definitely the most fun event, because of everything that’s at stake for the national championship.”
So timing matters – and so does location. The host club takes great pride in their signature event, with PDA’s entire staff investing extra time and resources to ensure that their tournament remains a prime destination for elite girls’ soccer, especially in the past decade since PDA opened their own fields complex, which hosted matches along with nearby Morningside Farm and other fields on the Rutgers University campus.
After spending all week fretting about a possible return of the rainstorms which drenched central New Jersey in the lead-up to the event, longtime tournament director Patty Seitz was pleased –and somewhat less stressed – once the games got underway with limited interference from the weather, aside from concerns about the draining heat and humidity that required all present to stay hydrated and well-nourished.
“It’s fabulous, it really is,” she said of the PDA Showcase. “Every year I look so forward to it, with the teams that you’ve grown to know from different parts of the country that I get to see once a year, and then the college coaches.
“We like to do everything top-notch, we like to spoil them. We like to be known as the best place to eat in all the tournaments,” she added with a grin.
College coaches, who typically experience a wide range of amenities, or lack thereof, as they recruit at dozens of tournaments across the country every season, take notice of these subtle details.
“It’s a great event. Very organized, with a lot of different teams from all over the country. It’s been awesome,” said Air Force head coach Larry Friend. “The hospitality here is really good. There are some tournaments across the country where they try to do a very good job taking care of the coaches. College soccer isn’t exactly the highest-paying profession in the world, so just being able to get a bite to eat means you don’t have to leave the fields to go find a place to eat and come back, so you’re able to stay on the field and watch games…It makes it nice.”
Add in the proximity to major East Coast population centers and ample transportation links, and the reasons for the PDA showcase’s enduring relevance is clear.
“This is one of the best college showcases in the country, coming to PDA,” said PDA coach Mike O’Neill. “It’s beautiful, and the simple fact that it’s ours, we all take a lot of pride in that. We want to play well here, because it’s our club and it’s the true sense of club, from Tom Anderson, our president, to all the coaches who spend all the time preparing the fields and cleaning up at the end of the day. So I think there’s a little bit of extra because it is our home.”