What is ECNL Soccer and How Does it Work?

what is ecnl soccer?

There are a variety of soccer leagues and competitions throughout the US. One example of this is the ECNL. If the ECNL is new to you, you’ll be wanting to understand what it is and how it works. So let me explain it to you here.

The Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) is a national soccer league created in 2009 for youth players aged 13 through 18. ECNL soccer exists to provide the best conditions for developing young players within a highly competitive environment.

In this article, I’ll show you:

  • How the league works
  • The history of the competition
  • If ECNL soccer is worth it

The Format of ECNL Soccer

As with any soccer season, the ECNL has a specific format that all teams involved must follow. 

Firstly, the ECNL is separated into different sections, depending on the location within the country. 

Girls have nine regional conferences, whereas the boys can enjoy ten. These regional conferences contain anywhere from nine to sixteen clubs, all competing and fighting to be the best. 

Each ECNL season consists of twenty to thirty games spread across the season, and each team plays against all other teams in their specific region.

As well as the regular season, the ECNL also hosts a few other games and events throughout the year. 

These national events occur on weekends against teams from different conferences and regions that they may not ever play during the domestic season. 

The competing teams may not play every other team in the whole tournament, but it is an opportunity to play teams from across the country.

The ECNL also offers their own “Champions League Playoffs” during the season. 

As well as a few wildcard teams, teams that have acquired the most points during the season automatically qualify for the playoffs. These teams create a group of 32. 

The playoffs follow a single round-robin style format, with eight groups, each consisting of four teams. The winner of each group will then play another group winner to decide who qualifies for the ECNL National Finals.

The four teams in the National Finals play in a two-day tournament to decide who becomes the champion that season.

The title of ECNL National champion is arguably the biggest prize in American youth soccer. 

The teams who fail to qualify for the ECNL Champions league can compete in the North American or the Showcase Cup. This cup provides more opportunities to young players that may not be open to them ordinarily. 

Those top sixteen teams who don’t gain enough points to enter the Champions League qualify for the North American Cup.

The sixteen teams below them are eligible for the third-tier Showcase Cup. 

Any teams that don’t qualify for any other Cup have the opportunity to compete in the Open Cup. This is the only way regional teams that don’t qualify for any other competition can prove their worth in front of scouts or coaches from other clubs. 

All this shows that there are many opportunities for youth players to be involved in competitive soccer within the ECNL.

Find out when soccer season starts in my article – When is Soccer Season? (MLS, Europe, and Youth)

The History of the ECNL

soccer player in red
ECNL Soccer Player

As with any competition, it is worth understanding the history and creation of the ECNL to understand its purpose.

Many of the top female youth clubs around the US came together to create the ECNL in 2009. The main philosophy was that young female soccer players needed a better structure for the girls to develop in the best way possible. 

The structure needed to reduce the number of games within a season and replace them with fewer but more meaningful and quality games. The games needed to help the players grow in the way they needed.

These clubs could also see the path ahead in how the league would work.

Their vision was to have a national competition and a program that would function as a national identification system. They would then link this system to their new competition and become an organization able to share the best practice for developing players nationwide. 

Starting in August 2009, the ECNL began as a girls-only league, catering to under 15, 16, and 17 teams. These teams would play nine regular games during the season to qualify for the ECNL championship. This championship was played later in the year. 

The league expanded a season later, allowing more clubs to take part. This expansion brought the total from 40 clubs up to 52. The development also allowed for the inclusion of a new age bracket in the mix; now, under 18’s were also allowed to play. 

The ECNL saw a further expansion in August 2011 when the number of clubs allowed to play swelled from 52 clubs to 66 clubs. Each team played 30 regular games during the season. This further expansion of clubs and games cemented the league as the leading competitive platform for girls of different ages. 

The league would take on another growth spurt in August 2017, when the founding clubs launched the boys league. These changes allowed both boys and girls to be involved in the ECNL. 

In 2020, the ECNL would see its most significant growth spurt to date.

The leagues had once again increased with clubs, taking the girls league from 94 clubs to 113 clubs and the boys league from 90 clubs to 131 different clubs.

The league’s next expansion happened in 2021, with the formation of a new ECNL Super Cup.

This Super Cup would help clubs find and pick their top players across the age groups and create a “First team.” This team would have additional training sessions throughout the year and play in other competitions within the league.

The new format will allow younger players to:

  • challenge themselves, 
  • push themselves to greater heights, 
  • face challenges, 
  • and be up against opponents they would not have encountered before. 

The new development would further aid in developing young players, constantly giving them challenges that they must overcome.

Throughout its history, the ECNL’s focus has been on optimizing the development of youth soccer players across the country.

For more about youth soccer, check out my guide to Youth Soccer Positions, or Youth Soccer Field Dimensions.

How to Join ENCL?

If reading about the ECNL has inspired you to join, you’ll be happy to know that joining the ECNL is relatively simple as long as you’re good enough.

To join ECNL, all you need to do is find local clubs in your area that play in the ECNL and inquire about joining one of those clubs. You can find clubs that are contenders in the ECNL in any major city throughout the United States. 

The real challenge is for the club’s coaches to see you as good enough to be a part of the team. So, to improve your game and ensure you’re giving yourself the best possible chance of being selected, I recommend you check out one of my related articles:

Is ECNL Soccer Worth It?

The ECNL exists to push younger soccer players to become the best player they can be. 

Playing in the ECNL is worth it if you are interested in furthering your career or improving your game. You will quickly benefit from exposure to an environment that pushes you to be the best you can be.

If this is what you are looking for, then it is definitely worth joining a local club that plays in the ECNL.

However, playing any level of soccer where you are consistently challenged to improve and grow will benefit you. You may want to check out my articles on the top 10 soccer drills or the best soccer tricks and skills to see your ability increase and enjoyment of the game develop.

Ben Clayfield

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Find out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

Recent Posts