The ECNL was founded in 2009 by forward-thinking Directors of Coaching across the country who saw a need for change in and special commitment to improving the daily environment for American elite female youth soccer players. These Directors came together and collaborated to build what would become the top female youth development platform in the world. The grass roots leadership and cooperation was unprecedented in American youth soccer, and the ECNL continues to be the most progressive and innovative development platform in the country.
2009-2010: Inaugural ECNL Season
The inaugural ECNL season, August 2009 to July 2010, included 40 of the top girls soccer clubs throughout the country, with more than 2,000 players participating in ECNL competition in the U15, U16, and U17 age groups. Teams competed in one of two competitive flights (the “A Flight” or the “B Flight”) for the ECNL National Championship, the ECNL Club National Championship, and promotion and relegation between the flights. Each team played nine regular season games within their division for placement going into the ECNL National Championship. Games were played at five different ECNL National Showcase Events held throughout the country, and all participating teams came together for the first annual ECNL National Championship in Seattle, WA in July 2010.
In its second season, 2010-11, the ECNL saw several changes. The ECNL added twelve of the top girls clubs from around the country, bringing the total number of ECNL member clubs to 52, and expanded to include the U18 age group. Each of the 52 member clubs had an ECNL team in the U15 through U18 age groups. In total, each team played roughly 16 games. The ECNL schedule expanded to include regional competition to supplement the existing ECNL National Showcase Events, and the ECNL National Championships were held in Aurora, CO in July. By adding more age groups and more high-quality ECNL games, the ECNL took steps that allowed the member clubs to increase the quality of games played while reducing the overall number of games on their calendar, increase the training time for their players, and expand the developmental opportunities provided by this platform into more age groups.
In the third season, 2011-12, the ECNL again expanded to include the nation’s elite 66 female soccer clubs, an enhanced scouting and player identification structure, accessible club administrative, coaching, and scouting education opportunities, and an improved season structure that includes the U14 age group. Most importantly, the ECNL expanded the competition platform to approximately 30 games per team. By focusing solely on the elite competition within the ECNL, these clubs will be able to provide an improved environment with a better training-to-game ratio and more demanding and consistent competition. The 2011-12 ECNL season has three parts which provide the competitive platform for over 5,000 games to be played:
1- ECNL Conference and Cross-Conference Competitions;
2- ECNL National Event Competitions; and
3- ECNL National Championships.
In the fourth season of the ECNL, 2012-13, signs began to show that the league was maturing and getting close to its full size. Expansion was limited, as only 7 clubs were added to reach a total of 73 clubs. Conference play became the dominant portion of the ECNL schedule, with conference results determining qualification for the ECNL post-season. This was a change from previous seasons. The top 32 teams in the ECNL, based on conference games and limited wildcards, qualified for the ECNL Champions League post-season playoffs. The next best 32 teams in the ECNL qualified for the ECNL North American Cup play-offs. Both play-offs were contested in Aurora, CO, with the top 8 teams in each competition qualifying for the ECNL Finals. The inaugural ECNL Finals were played in Richmond, VA where the winners of the ECNL Champions League were crowned the ECNL National Champions. The winners of the ECNL North American Cup were crowned Cup Champions.
In the fifth season, 2013-14, the ECNL experienced a small expansion, with only 3 clubs added to bring the total number of ECNL member clubs to 76. While there was limited conference re-alignment, the competition structure generally remained the same as the 2012-2013 season. The 2014 ECNL Playoffs (where the Champions League and North American Cup qualifiers will compete) were played in Seattle, WA in late June – bringing the league full circle to its humble beginnings in 2009. The winners of each playoff group advanced to the ECNL Finals, again held in Richmond, VA.
In the sixth season, 2014-15, the competition structure changed with the additions of the Showcase Cup, rounding out the ECNL Playoffs with three tiers: Champions League, North American Cup and Showcase Cup. The Champions League structure remained the same as years past, while both the North American Cup and Showcase Cup were set up as knockout style brackets, with 16 teams competing in each for a chance to be crowned champion in Seattle, WA. The winners of each playoff group in the Champions League advanced to the ECNL Finals, held in Richmond, VA for the third year.
In the seventh season, 2015-16, the ECNL expanded to 79 member clubs, with limited conference re-alignment. The competition structure remained the same for the ECNL Playoffs with three tiers: Champions League, North American Cup and Showcase Cup. The Champions League structure changed slightly with the addition of the quarterfinal game at the ECNL Playoffs, while both the North American Cup and Showcase Cup stayed the same with knockout style brackets, with 16 teams competing in each for a chance to be crowned champion in Oceanside, CA. The winners of each quarterfinal game in the Champions League advanced to the ECNL Final Four, held in Germantown, MD.