What is ECNL? Everything You Need to Know

What is ECNL? Everything You Need to Know

Last updated on July 15th, 2023 at 11:27 am

The United States is home to many professional and youth soccer teams, leagues, and tournaments. The ECNL is a good illustration of this.

If you’re not familiar with the ECNL or considering joining a club that is part of it, you’ll want to learn more about it and how it works. So, let us break it down for you.

Before we get into the article, what does ECNL stand for? ECNL stands for Elite Clubs National League.

Founded in 2009, the ECNL is a national youth soccer league for boys and girls ages 13–18 that is sanctioned by US Club Soccer.

As a highly competitive league, they focus on helping young players develop their skills and provide them with a competitive soccer environment.

“Today, the ECNL represents the epitome of excellence in youth soccer, for boys and girls, as the league and its clubs, players, coaches, and everyone involved seeks to constantly “Raise the Game” for the future.” – US Club Soccer

Season Structure and Competition Format

Regular Season

Teams play against each other in their respective regional conferences.

In the girl’s divisions, there are ten regional conferences which include:

  1. Mid-Atlantic
  2. Midwest
  3. New England
  4. North Atlantic
  5. Northern Cal
  6. Northwest
  7. Ohio Valley
  8. Southeast
  9. Southwest
  10. Texas

In the boy’s divisions, there is a collection of twelve conferences including:

  1. Florida
  2. Heartland
  3. Mid-Atlantic
  4. Midwest
  5. Mountain
  6. Northeast
  7. Northern Cal
  8. Northwest
  9. Ohio Valley
  10. Southeast
  11. Southwest
  12. Texas

Each region competes in a standings table format.

During the course of the fall and spring seasons, a team could play anywhere from twenty to thirty games.

National Events

Teams may face off against opponents from other regional conferences during highly anticipated National Events. This allows clubs to play against another team that they wouldn’t ordinarily face in league play.

Moreover, the National Events are a great way for players in the u16-u18/19 divisions to get scouted by college coaches. With many talented players on the field at once, it’s attractive to scouts and coaches to evaluate players in one weekend. Also, it’s great visibility for those players who may have previously gone under the radar.

On the weekends of ENCL National Events, they also hold its National Selection Games.

The National Selection Events are essentially “all-star” games, with the best players in the ECNL being chosen to play. Being invited to participate in these games is a great honor for any player.

National Playoffs and Finals

Recently, both the ECNL Boys and Girls announced an expanded postseason system.

Boys Playoffs:

Starting league play in August, the boys teams competed in their conference and then in the National Events. Collectively, these matches added to the qualification process geared towards identifying the top teams.

  • Boys u13: 48 teams will be placed into (4) group stages for the ECNL Boys Playoffs. From here, each group winner and top four second-place teams, will advance to a knockout round with the eight winners advancing to the National Finals.
  • Boys u14-u17: 64 teams will be competing in a two-stage competition. In the group stage, teams are divided into 16 groups with the winner of each advancing to the knockout stage. Subsequently, the top eight clubs move on to the National Finals.
  • Boys u18/19: The top 16 teams across the U.S. will play in a single-elimination Champions League bracket to determine the coveted National Champion.

Girls Playoffs

For the u13-17 divisions, 44 teams are placed in 11 groups determined by the regular season standings. Each team will compete against every team in their group so they’ll play a total of three first-round matches. The winners of each group and the top five second-place teams will advance to the knockout stage. The winners of the knockout rounds will play in the Champions League to determine the Girl’s National Champion.

In the u18/19 age group, 16 teams nationally will play a single-elimination bracket to be crowned National Champion.

North American Cup

The top u18/19s ECNL Boys teams that didn’t qualify for the Champions League Playoffs can compete in the North American Cup. This affords an opportunity for the players to get scouted by college coaches across the nation.

The next best 48 teams for the ECNL Girls u16 and u17 age groups will compete in either the North American Cup, Showcase Cup A, or Showcase Cup B.

Open Cup

Teams who didn’t make the cut for the Champions League, North American Cup, or Showcase Cup may still compete in the ECNL Open Cup. The ECNL invites the best teams from the ECRL regional league to play as well.

This gives ECRL players a chance to show off their talent in front of college recruiters while competing against teams from the middle tier of the ECNL.

Super Cup

For both boys and girls, age groups U15–U19, the Super Cup gives ECNL clubs a chance to put together their finest available lineup. Players selected for this top level of competition will remain on their ECNL age group team. They will also play with the combined super team for extra training and competition chances.

ECNL Regional Leagues

The last item we want to touch on is the relatively new ECNL Regional League (ECRL). ECRL is a group of leagues that operate under the ECNL umbrella.

Formed in 2018, the ECNL Girls piloted this program to localize soccer matches but still remain at a highly competitive level. Piggy-backing on the success, the boys also formed their own Regional League.

ECNL Regional Leagues are typically organized by geographic region and are sanctioned by the ECNL. The leagues provide a competitive environment for players outside of the league, allowing them to develop their skills and abilities and potentially earn a spot on an ECNL team in the future.

Players and teams participating in ECNL Regional Leagues may have the opportunity to compete in regional and national showcase events, as well as potentially earn invitations to ECNL national events. The goal of these leagues is to provide additional opportunities for soccer players to reach their full potential and pursue their goals in the sport.

This is a great move by ECNL to expand the footprint for youth soccer while maintaining the same standards.

How Many ECNL Teams Are There?

The ECNL divisions continue to grow in the number of club organizations and teams that join.

The landscape of the ECNL includes:

  • ECNL Boys: Approximately 786 teams from 147 different clubs
  • ECNL Girls: Approximately 748 teams from 130 different clubs
  • ECNL Girls Regional League: Approximately 840 teams
  • ECNL Boys Regional League: – Approximately 230 teams

History of Elite Clubs National League

As mentioned above, it was established in 2009 but, at the time, exclusively for young female soccer players.

It was founded by high-level soccer teams from across the country who “recognized a need for change in, and a specific dedication to, improving the everyday environment for top American female, young soccer players.”

The ECNL began with U15, U16, and U17 girls’ soccer teams but subsequently extended to U13-U19 girls’ soccer teams.

In 2017, as the league progressed, it has expanded to include a boys division.

To become a member, youth soccer clubs must go through a rigorous application process and demonstrate their high level of play.

Playing in the ECNL

ECNL draws thousands of boys and girls soccer players across more than 100 member clubs.

Across the U.S., teams are competing at one of the highest levels in youth soccer. With the support of US Club Soccer, ECNL has developed a fun and exciting environment for our youth players.

The ECNL not only attracted a sizable fan base, but they also stuck to their initial strategy of developing a player-centric method of development. Along the way, it “birthed” many future stars in the expanding American soccer scene.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the ECNL teams in your area, visit the list of ECNL Boys teams and ECNL girls teams in your area.

Common Questions

What does ECNL in soccer mean?

ECNL stands for Elite Clubs National League (ECNL). This is a top-tier youth league for female and male soccer players.

Is ECNL a national youth soccer league?

Yes, ECNL is a national youth soccer league. Many teams will play in their region during the regular season and expand out to other states during playoffs, tournaments, and showcases.

Can you go pro from ECNL?

This is a loaded question as there are so many variables that make a player turn pro. With this said, it is possible to go pro from ECNL or any other youth league for that matter. The chances are slim but doable.

Can you play ECNL and high school soccer at the same time?

If the schedule allows, ECNL players are allowed to play high school soccer.

Beau Bridges - Soccer Novo Hey 👋 I’m Beau. A proud Dad, former coach and soccer enthusiast. I continue to love the game of soccer today the same way I did when I was 7. I created soccernovo.com to share what I know about the game as well as provide a platform so other parents can learn more about youth soccer in the U.S.

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