ECNL Frequently Asked Questions

The following “frequently asked questions” are provided to give basic information about the ECNL, and are grouped into eight basic categories: (i) Background of the ECNL; (ii) Player Development in the ECNL; (iii) Competitive Structure of the ECNL; (iv) the ECNL Player Identification Program; (v) Collegiate Recruiting and the ECNL; (vi) the ECNL National Championship: (vii) Future Years of the ECNL; and (viii) Administration of the ECNL.

Background of the ECNL:

What is the Elite Clubs National League (the “ECNL”)?

The ECNL is a national youth soccer league founded in 2009 for U15, U16 and U17 girls for the purpose of providing the highest level of competition and the best developmental environment for American female youth soccer players, as well as an identification program for identifying players for US Soccer Youth National Teams. The 2009-2010 season was the ECNL’s inaugural season, during which each ECNL team played 9 regular-season games and 2 post-season games.

Why was the ECNL founded?

The ECNL was founded by many of the best female youth soccer clubs throughout the country based on the belief that elite female player development in the United States needed a structure that would reduce the total number of games on the schedule and increase the number of meaningful, quality games. The ECNL sets forth a vision that provides a clear path to that goal: a national competition schedule and a national identification program linked to that competition, and an organization in which best practices in player development can be shared throughout the country.

Who plays in the ECNL?

In 2009-2010, the ECNL consisted of 40 of the best female youth soccer clubs from across the country. In 2013-2014 the ECNL has expanded to 76 clubs. For a complete list of member clubs, please go to Each member club will have 1 team in the U14, U15, U16, and U17 divisions of the ECNL.

Why should I play in the ECNL?

The ECNL was formed with one driving purpose: to improve the developmental environment for elite female soccer players. In order to accomplish this, the ECNL has several specific objectives: (i) increase the frequency with which the top players in the country have the opportunity to compete against each other; (ii) decrease the number of uncompetitive games for the top players in the country so that these players can train more frequently; (iii) increase the collegiate recruiting exposure for top players; and (iv) provide an alternative identification program for these players to be identified for US Soccer Youth National Teams.

Every member club of the ECNL is dedicated to accomplishing these objectives. By coming together into the ECNL, ECNL member clubs can help to make the changes necessary to accomplish these objectives far more quickly, efficiently, and effectively.

Player Development in the ECNL:

How is the ECNL different from other female soccer leagues in maximizing player development?

  • Competition: First, the ECNL provides the opportunity for the best female youth soccer players in the country to compete against each other – one of the requirements for maximizing player development. Because the ECNL only includes the best clubs in the country, every ECNL game is exceptionally competitive and played at a significantly higher speed with more physical, psychological, technical and tactical demands on the players than the “average” game. The consistency of this competition and the demands it imposes creates more skillful, intelligent, and focused players. Second, in order to maximize the competitive level of each ECNL game, the ECNL only schedules 1 ECNL game per day per team, and no more than 3 days of ECNL games in succession. This aids in reducing burn-out and fatigue from game-to-game.
  • Substitution: The ECNL limits the number of substitutions in each ECNL game by prohibiting re-entry of players in each half. In other words, once a player is subbed out of an ECNL game, the player may not re-enter the game in that half of play. This forces players to maintain their concentration and work-rate for far longer periods of time than in most other competitions, and helps to prepare them for competition at the national and international level. In other words, without the massive substitution common in other youth soccer events, players in ECNL games are forced to adapt to the physical and psychological demands of playing for 90 minutes without break and without the “cushion” of temporary substitution to re-energize or re-focus.
  • Roster Rules: The ECNL allows a flexible roster of up to 26 players per team, and allows players to be rostered on multiple teams within their ECNL club. In addition, the ECNL allows players to move from one team roster to another from day-to-day, allowing players to play in different age groups in the same event. (A player may only play in 1 ECNL game per day.) This allows talented players to “play-up” against older players when a club determines it is in the best interests of the player to do so in order to maximize challenge and learning.
  • Relief of Calendar Congestion: By guaranteeing member clubs with the opportunity to play the best clubs in the country on a regular basis, and by providing an additional identification program within these games, the ECNL schedule allows member clubs to reduce the total number of games played by their teams and players each year. This provides each member club with more time for training to develop each player, and provides players more time for recovery and rejuvenation over the course of the year.
  • Standards and Recommendations: The ECNL provides a recommended set of minimum standards and expectations for players and staff of ECNL member clubs to create a more professional soccer environment. In addition, the ECNL provides member clubs with the opportunity to share best practices in player development and club organization and administration to improve the daily experience of the players.