In developmental soccer circles, PDA has earned a great deal of respect. The expansive New Jersey club program annually produces a selection of the nation’s best players on both the girls and boys sides, and Division I rosters are littered with players who came through the club’s prestigious system.
On the girls side, the PDA U18 and U15 teams are unbeaten in the ECNL, while the rest are in the top three in their respective divisions. On the boys side, PDA is second in the U18 Atlantic Division and first in the U16 division with a 14-4-1 record.
But while the ECNL and Development Academy have developed into a college - and sometimes professional - launch pad for elite players, a number of US Club Soccer NPL divisions are developing a niche as arguably the nation’s best precursor league to those two lofty destinations. Player development is undeniably crucial during the pre and early-teen years, and US Club Soccer is providing an open avenue through the NPL.
The PDA girls program in the NPL’s Northeast Girls League leading into the ECNL is arguably one of the nation’s best US Club Soccer youth programs, specifically for players 15 and under. While the PDA U18 team, for instance, is loaded with highly touted Division I recruits like Caroline Chagares (Harvard), Colby Ciarrocca (Vanderbilt) and Rachel Corboz (Georgetown), the club’s youngest teams are ready to restock its ranks.
Specifically, the PDA U13, U14 and U15 teams are fast on their way to replenishing the older rosters with top talent.
Three of the PDA girls’ youngest teams are all in first place in their respective age groups and in line for trips to the NPL Finals in Greensboro, N.C. in July. The U13 team was 10-1-2 through its first 13 games with 31 goals to just seven against. The U14 side went 9-0-1 through its first 10 to create a three-point cushion over second-place FC Stars of Massachusetts, while the U15 team started the year 7-0-0 and gave up just three goals over that span.
Whatever happens, PDA will be well represented at this summer’s NPL Finals. As a result, it’s a safe bet the program’s legacy on the girls side in the ECNL will live on thanks in large part to the swell of talent coming through its ranks.
The NPL continues to expand. Last fall, the league network added the South Central Premier League, a smaller league that encompasses Texas and Oklahoma which allows for expansion into that densely populated area of the country. This fall, two more leagues are joining the fold for the 2014-2015 season - the Virginia NPL and the Northwest Champions League.
The Northwest Champions League was just announced late last week and spans U11 to U19 boys and girls age groups from Washington, Oregon and Idaho. It will absorb clubs from two preexisting NPLs in the Oregon Premier League and the Washington State Premier League in addition to a smattering of other clubs across the region. There are 28 clubs represented for the finalized U11-U14 age group, while the rest are still being hammered down.
With less preexisting structure in place, the Virginia NPL rollout will be a bit more modest. The league will start with 11 clubs in the U13 to U18 age range, notably with representation from nationally-known programs like Richmond Kickers, Richmond Strikers and Virginia Rush.
Texas Pre-Academy League rolling toward Greensboro
One of the nation’s best club leagues at any level, the NPL’s Texas Pre-Academy League is top-heavy this year. Look no further than FC Dallas’s U15 boys side, which has been rampantly productive this season. Through its first 15 games, FCD sported a 13-1-1 record and a mammoth 36-3 goals-to-goals against record. And yet the Solar U15s were hot on their heels through the same period with a 12-1-2 record, just three points adrift.
Need a date to mark on the calendar as these teams circle each other like ravenous wolves? Solar and FCD square off one more time this season, a June 1 matchup at Solar’s field at 2 p.m. Depending on how the intervening weeks go, could that game be for all the marbles? Entirely possible. FCD’s only loss this season came in a 1-0 setback against Solar back in September. One of the best rivalries in US Club Soccer is only just heating up.