The ECNL wrapped up their first National Event of the 2020/2021 club soccer season last weekend from the Reach 11 Sports Complex in Phoenix, Arizona. It was the first event for the national league since the COVID-19 shutdown, and the first event that the league has hosted without Division I college coaches in attendance.
From an immediate reaction, the event went off well. There were signs throughout the complex reminding everyone to socially distance and wear masks. The were spacing markers around the merchandise tent, which is typically one of the most popular places at any ECNL event. There was hand sanitizer stations near every bathroom as well.
ECNL kept people at the fields to a minimum as they discouraged the teams from linger around to watch the other teams at the club playing at the same event. And beyond teams meeting up together, there were not many instances of large groups together at the complex.
The congregation of clubs from Texas Conference, Midwest Conference, Southwest, and Northwest had some of the best youth soccer teams on display. Eclipse Select SC U17 and U18/19 teams were among some of the most impressive at the event. The Illinois club went 2-1 in each age group, but beyond the results the teams had a clear identity and the players were developing their own style within that system. There was individual brilliance from the players as well as a collective greatness from the teams.
Real Colorado National went 3-0 in the U17, U16, and U15 age groups. The U17 team only conceded one goal while scoring 10. The U16 team did slightly better as they did not concede a goal and also scored 10.
FC Dallas went 3-0 in the U17 and U16 age groups. The FC Dallas U17 team had one of the best team goals of the event on Sunday as top strikers Alexis Lee and Taylor Zdrojewski linked up for one tally that will be remember for some time.
Kansas City Athletics was the only club with a perfect record from the U16, U17, and U18/19 age groups. Athletics went 9-0 between the three teams. The U16 team finished as the top team in that age groups with an impressive 19 goals for and only four goals against.
With some of the Development Academy clubs back in the ECNL (including the aforementioned FC Dallas and Real Colorado National), the level of these events continues to get more competitive. The battle for playoff spots this year will be fierce, and the playoffs could be the only event of the season with Division I coaches/scouts in attendance after the recruiting dead period was extended until April.
The lack of Division I scouts in Phoenix was a disappointment - and it was noticeable. Even though there were coaches from other levels of college soccer, those coaches appeared to be more targeted in their scouting in the sense that they went to one game to focus on one or two players who had expressed interest in their program. It’s probably a good idea for players to start reaching out to college coaches if you will be attending one of the upcoming National Events.
The extended ban for Division I in-person recruiting until April is a hurdle, but the league already having a working solution should not slow down that side of things for this club season. With all games streamed and broadcasted, there is still plenty of scouting that is going on at these events even if it is not all in person.
The overall takeaway from the player/parent perspective was elation to be back on the field or watching their children compete again. There were teams at the event that had not played any games since March. One team traveled to Phoenix from Northern California a week before the event so they could train and scrimmage in Arizona while the Golden State remained in shutdown to youth sports. The team rented a house on AirBnB, which is probably going to be a more popular idea in the coming months with more events on the schedule.
ECNL’s next event is scheduled for Dec. 4-6 in South Carolina. Some of the teams from Phoenix will be competing again there, as well as some of the top teams from the Southeast Conference. It will be good display of how the national club soccer league continues to grow and adapt within these circumstances.