Girls Academy vs ECNL: The Interesting Debate
If you’re deep in the girl’s soccer scene, you may have heard, “What’s better…Girls Academy or ECNL?”
The two leagues kind of operate in parallel and have their similarities and differences.
Both leagues provide girls with an environment to thrive and play against elite competition in their respective regions. Both also offer a great pathway to play at the next level in college.
So, what is the difference? To help your decision-making process, we’ll explain everything below…
What is Girls Academy?
Girls Academy, more simply known as GA, is considered to be the top of the pyramid for girls’ youth soccer. In this section, we’ll provide an overview of Girls Academy, including its history and structure.
History of Girls Academy
Girls Academy was founded in 2020 as a response to the discontinuation of the US Soccer Development Academy (DA) program. The DA program was a highly competitive league for youth soccer players, but it was shut down due to financial difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the DA program gone, many top youth soccer clubs were left without a league to compete in. Some clubs joined the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL), which was already an established girls’ soccer league.
However, other clubs decided to form their own league, which became Girls Academy.
Structure of Girls Academy
Girls Academy is a league for female youth soccer players aged 13-19. It currently consists of over 90 clubs spread across nine conferences: Northwest, Pacific Northwest, Mountain West, Southwest, Frontier, Mid-America, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast.
The league’s structure is similar to other youth soccer leagues, with regular season games starting in late August and running through May. The season culminates with playoffs and national events in June and July. However, Girls Academy also places a strong emphasis on player development and education.
As stated on their website, “What makes the GA unique and different is the active role the league’s players have in shaping the direction of the league. How? Introducing the Advisory Panel, which affords the players the opportunity to nominate and maintain a player-led board that represents the thoughts, opinions, and vision of the players. The Advisory Panel is active in suggesting ways to improve the league, engaging in sponsor opportunities, organizing charitable initiatives, shaping league merchandise offerings, and more.”
What is ECNL?
The Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) for girls is a high-level league for any female soccer players looking to play at an elite level. Here’s what you need to know about ECNL:
History of ECNL
ECNL was founded in 2009 as an alternative to the US Youth Soccer Association’s Olympic Development Program (ODP).
The goal was to create a league that would provide top-level competition for female (and male) players and help them get noticed by college coaches.
Today, ECNL is one of the most well-respected leagues in the country, with over 100 clubs and more than 10,000 players.
Structure of ECNL
ECNL is a club-based league, meaning that players compete for their club teams rather than their high school teams. The league is divided into ten regional conferences, each of which is made up of 12-18 clubs. Most soccer clubs field teams in several age groups, ranging from U13 to U19.
ECNL places a strong emphasis on player development, with a focus on technical skills, tactical knowledge, and physical fitness. The league also requires high coaching and facility standards, ensuring that players have access to the best possible resources.
ECNL teams compete in regular-season games, as well as showcase events and playoffs. The league also offers a National Training Camp, which brings together the top players from across the country for a week of training and competition.
With the ECNL Girls League, there is a lot of room to improve and showcase your skills as you enter the college recruiting process. With a boys league also, ECNL continues to innovate and progress the game of soccer forward.
Comparison of Girls Academy and ECNL
Level of Competition
When it comes to the level of competition, both Girls Academy (GA) and Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) are highly competitive leagues.
It comes down to your region. Are most top clubs in your state competing in the GA or ECNL? We’ve seen a recent shift in more clubs jumping to ECNL from GA because of the bigger footprint.
Both GA and ECNL place a strong emphasis on player development. They offer high-quality coaching and training programs that are designed to help players reach their full potential.
The determination comes down at the club-level. Is your local club investing in new coaching and keeping quality coaches? If most of the coaches are one-and-done, this could be a red flag.
Both leagues provide many opportunities to get seen by college scouts and coaches. The national events and showcases attract top players and, in turn, provide opportunities to get recruited.
With that said, ECNL has a reputation for providing excellent exposure for its players. The league hosts well-organized showcase events that are well-attended by college scouts and coaches.
Cost of Youth Soccer
Let’s face it. Club soccer is expensive across the board. There’s no denying that.
So, the cost of playing in the GA and ECNL is similar. Including travel, parents may be paying north of $5,000 for the season.
It could be similar to what we paid for my son’s U13 MLS NEXT season. Here’s our breakdown of the costs we incurred over the season.
ECNL has ten regional conferences as well as showcase events, which means that it has a wide geographic reach. However, there can only be one ECNL club within a 75-mile radius. This can limit the number of clubs that can participate in the league.
The GA, on the other hand, is still growing and developing its geographic reach. However, the league has already attracted top clubs from across the country, which suggests that it has the potential to become a truly national league.
Pros and Cons of Girls Academy
Advantages of Girls Academy
Girls Academy (GA) is a relatively new league that emerged after the US Soccer Development Academy was disbanded. Here are some advantages of joining the GA:
- GA provides a clear pathway to college soccer for girls.
- GA is a closed league, which means that only the top clubs are invited to participate. This ensures a high level of competition.
- GA is run by experienced soccer professionals who have a long history of developing players.
- GA allows for flexibility in scheduling, which is helpful for players who want to participate in other sports or activities.
Disadvantages of Girls Academy
While there are advantages to joining the GA, there are also some potential disadvantages to consider:
- GA is a newer league, and it may take time for more clubs to consider joining.
- GA does not have the same level of recognition as the ECNL, which may impact college recruiting.
- GA is a closed league, which means that some top clubs may not have the opportunity to participate.
- GA has a limited geographic reach, which may make it difficult for players in certain regions to participate.
Pros and Cons of ECNL
Advantages of ECNL
If you’re considering joining the ECNL, here are some of the advantages to keep in mind:
- ECNL teams compete against some of the best youth soccer teams in the country. This provides players with the opportunity to develop their skills and gain exposure to college scouts.
- ECNL clubs are committed to maintaining high standards for their facilities and coaching staff. This means that you’ll have access to some of the best resources available to help you develop as a player.
- The ECNL has a proven track record of helping players get recruited to play college soccer. This is due in part to the high level of competition and exposure that players receive while playing in the league.
Disadvantages of ECNL
While there are many advantages to playing in the ECNL, there are also some potential downsides to keep in mind:
- Playing in the ECNL can be expensive, as clubs are required to maintain high standards for their facilities and coaching staff. This can result in higher fees for players and their families.
- Travel: Because the ECNL is a national league, players may need to travel long distances to compete in games. This can be time-consuming and expensive for families.
- Because there’s also an ECNL for boys, the girls may get overshadowed or prioritized by the soccer club. This is rare but it is something to consider if both options are available.
Let’s Wrap It Up
When it comes to choosing between Girls Academy and ECNL, it ultimately depends on the individual goals and priorities of the player and their family.
Honestly, both leagues are interchangeable. Even though we have GA at the top of the female soccer pyramid, ECNL could be right there as well.
I think the most important thing to consider is the development of the player. Choose an environment that the player will thrive in. Things to consider and look more closely at would be coaching, showcases and events, and the level of competition.
Both the GA and ECNl are great options for female soccer players. Both will provide a great opportunity to play at the next level.
I hope this breakdown helps! The youth soccer landscape is always evolving so we’ll provide updates to this article as more or new news comes out about each league.
Frequently Asked Questions
Girls Academy (GA) is a youth development platform and soccer league for female soccer players in the United States. It is considered the highest-tiered youth league for girls’ soccer.
ECNL Girls stands for the Elite Clubs National League Girls, which is a youth soccer league for female players in the United States.
Both leagues are great options for girls soccer and are interchangeable as far as competition. Even though we have GA at the top of the female soccer pyramid, ECNL could be right there as well. When choosing which one is better, you should consider your area, coaches, and the club’s pathway.
Girls Academy was founded in 2020 and replaced the Development Academy.