The Minnesota Thunder and Carmel United U15 ECNL teams have work to do.
While their Midwest Conference competition has all but completed its schedule and is resting comfortably for the winter, the two aforementioned clubs are lagging well behind. Conference-leading Eclipse Select (12-0-1), for example, has only a pair of matches in June to be concerned with while Carmel and the Thunder, with just five and four matches played respectively, are both booked from here until the summer.
Is this a balanced competitive landscape?
The high school season is of course to blame for the staggered start. The Thunder and Carmel cap their high school seasons around the beginning of November when the rest of the conference is in the meat of its ECNL campaign.
So now they'll have to go outside their region to make up the games, playing the likes of Penn Fusion, Ohio Elite and FC Bucks in order to close the gap.
It's a quandary that has few solutions. But there is one possibility that could shift the look of the ECNL: move the teams to new conferences.
There has been talk that Carmel will be moved out of the Midwest next season.
"It's a conversation that's being had I think," Richards said. "I'm not sure of the specifics and where the league is with that, but it is a possibility."
Until then, the Midwest will be playing catch up from here until the summer.
The U14 division of the Midwest Conference is dealing with no such problems. With each team playing on relatively the same pace we get an accurate look at which clubs are separating from their competition.
Exhibit A: Eclipse Select. The respected Chicago club is taking no prisoners and is off to a perfect 8-0-0 start. The Select are dominating foes with a goal margin of 31-6 and are led by standouts like Zoe Redei, Cassandra Rohan, Alissa Gorzak and Courtney Daugerdas.
Not quite as dominating thus far has been KCFC which sits in second place with a mark of 6-2-1. The Kansas club gave Eclipse one of its tougher matches of the year in a 2-0 loss back in September but they'll probably be hard pressed to catch them atop the standings.
Time will tell.