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Commentary Nov 07, 2019

How relevant are US Youth Soccer State Cups after rise of ECNL and DA?

For decades, the State Cup was widely recognized as a true youth soccer state championship event, where the winning team in each age group had a bona fide case to be considered the absolute best of the best for that year.

Although the event remains a highly competitive showcase for US Youth Soccer’s state associations, and qualifier for potential advancement to regional and national events, the title of ‘state champion’ has become increasingly less descriptive in recent years as a literal term, as the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) have completely re-shaped the national landscape of “travel” soccer teams.

Both the Boys DA and Girls ECNL now have more than a decade of growth and expansion under their belts, resulting in a long-term shift away from the traditional US Youth Soccer-sanctioned State Cup events for a significant percentage of the nation’s top-end talent. The advent of the Girls DA has accelerated the exodus of talent away from the State Cup over the last several years, perhaps more than any other single factor.

And as if things aren’t confusing enough, US Club Soccer’s creation of multiple different state, regional and national “Championship” pathways have added to the dilution as well, by drawing even more teams out of the old State Cup brackets.

On the other hand, many US Youth Soccer affiliated state associations across the country are still objectively the premier competitive platforms in their markets, especially in lesser-populated areas with little to no ECNL or DA presence. And even in many larger markets, top clubs all over the country still take a great deal of pride in competing for State Cup titles, and find ways for their best players to participate through dual rostering – a loophole made possible as US Club Soccer and US Youth Soccer each have direct connections to U.S. Soccer, and therefore cannot regulate each other’s individual player registration statues.

However, State Cup events have maintained the lion’s share of their historical prestige in younger age groups, where many ECNL and DA clubs still enter teams in US Youth Soccer affiliated leagues.

From a branding perspective, US Youth Soccer didn’t help itself by attempting to rebrand the entire State > Regional > National competition as the “National Championship Series” all the way down to the state level. This confused the parents in most states right at the same time so many teams were moving to other competitions, a fact proved by the fact most states have re-adopted the “State Cup” brand. Losing so much talent to DA and ECNL clubs was certainly a disruptive event to the entire history of the traditional state cup competition structure, so rebranding at the same time seemed to have the effect of confusing the local soccer politic into thinking it was a new thing right at the time when they probably should have been reemphasizing the tradition and prestige so many of us grew up dreaming about winning.

So, exactly how much effect have the ECNL, DA and other factors had on the overall relevance of the traditional State Cup format?

Episode 6 of The SoccerWire Podcast features a roundtable discussion on the issue, with founder/publisher Chris Hummer, managing editor Quinn Casteel and host / featured contributor Marc Serber breaking things down from multiple angles.

On Episode 6 of The SoccerWire Podcast, we discuss the decline of the US Youth Soccer State Cup, and how ECNL and DA affected its relevance. Listen to the Full Episode: ? More on State Cup:?

Posted by Soccer Wire on Thursday, November 7, 2019

See below for excerpts from the podcast discussion, or listen to the full show:

“Since the DA started, those clubs immediately pulled a bunch of players out of State Cup. Then US Club Soccer started sanctioning their own leagues, and the biggest movement of that was the Girls ECNL. That pulled all those teams out of there, so the teams that are winning State Cup now, and not taking anything away from them, but they are not the ‘best teams’ in their state … However there are DA and ECNL teams in every state that would get whooped by the State Cup champions.”

-Chris Hummer

“It seems like each year that goes by, you can add a team or two, in many age groups in their respective states that are objectively better than the so-called ‘state champion’. At this point, it’s pretty hard to ignore.” … “I don’t want to rain on the parade of the State Cup, especially because of what people call the ‘alphabet soup’ in youth soccer nowadays, with US Youth Soccer, US Club Soccer and so many different regional leagues and affiliations all over the country, everything is so fractal that in one state or one region, the US Youth Soccer State Cup might still be a ‘true state championship’ where they really are the best team. In another state, that might be the case for their US Club Soccer side in the NPL. Regionally it’s case-by-case, and it’s about which states happen to put their best teams in a particular league with a particular affiliation through US Youth Soccer or US Club Soccer, so it’s very fractal.”

-Quinn Casteel

“Obviously State Cup has lost its luster, and that’s fine, but I still think that it’s a huge achievement. The bottom line is if you play DA, that’s great. If you play in a system where you have an opportunity in State Cup, and you get a chance to win it, that’s great as well because that’s the path you’re on and that’s where you are.” … “I think it’s OK to have different champions within those different silos, because you’re all working toward different things. It’s hard for us older folks because we grew up in a time when the State Cup was the best team. But the youth game for me is just like the pro game. Yes it’s very diluted, and there are so many different leagues, but I think the more places that players have a chance to play and be on the path they want to play on, the better. If this particular State Cup is diluted, so what, and we don’t need to have some Champions League just to put a label on who is the exact best team in the U-14 age group.”

-Marc Serber

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