• March 10, 2022

By Jacob Born | March 10, 2022

One of the ECNL’s strongest conferences, the Mid-Atlantic Conference has seen a substantial amount of growth since its inception at the beginning of the 2017-18 season. 

Starting with just eight clubs, the conference grew to 15 clubs in 2019-20 and now sits at 18 clubs in a single table. The strength of the conference is reflected by the fact that, in the first-ever ECNL National Finals in July 2021, two Mid-Atlantic teams claimed national championships. 

With growth and a desire to keep pushing the envelope in development has also come the need for new, additional programming. As such, this season kicked off the inaugural Mid-Atlantic Cup, an additional competition for clubs to provide more games for the ECNL athlete as part of the ECNL’s Super Cup platform.

“We have built a conference where every club can get what they need in terms of programming,” said Carson Porter, Executive Director of Wilmington Hammerheads and the Mid-Atlantic Conference representative on the ECNL Boys Board. “There are clubs who want seven-month programming, and there are clubs who want 10-month programming. For those who wanted the 9-10 months, we created the Mid-Atlantic Cup. It’s about the ECNL providing programming that fits everyone’s needs.”

In its first season, eight clubs are participating in the Mid-Atlantic Cup, featuring contests in the U15-U18/19 age groups: Arlington SC, Charlotte Independence Pro, Charlotte SA, NCFC Academy, NC Fusion, Richmond United, VDA and Wilmington Hammerheads. Rather than playing a seven-month season, these clubs run a 10-month campaign, playing an additional seven games per season. 

All Mid-Atlantic Cup games are played outside of the ECNL regular season, with a different set of standings. Already halfway through the season, the Mid-Atlantic Cup will culminate in mid-June in Raleigh, N.C., where participating clubs will hold a two-day playoff event to crown a champion at each age group.

“The Mid-Atlantic Cup championship event will be an incredible two-day competition,” Porter said. “Being in Raleigh makes it a central location for college coaches to come out and see the athletes competing at their very best.” 

The Mid-Atlantic Cup is another program for clubs to use at their discretion to provide the best opportunities for their players in terms of player development. 

“As a player, training is great, but we all love the games,” Porter said. “The players remind all of us coaches that the games are what they get excited about. And that’s what being a kid is all about. So the Mid-Atlantic Cup fills gaps in each clubs’ schedule with more games, which is exactly what the athletes want.” 

It’s not just about players though; coaches are also being challenged in the Mid-Atlantic Cup. The additional games allow for roster rotation and tactical choices depending on the upcoming weekend is a Cup competition or a regularly-scheduled ECNL conference contest. 

“There are three pieces of the ECNL, and three pieces of the Mid-Atlantic Cup, which are competitive games, a high-level player pool, and high-level coaching,” Porter said. “With ECNL and Mid-Atlantic Cup competitions, there are some changing circumstances between games that coaches can address, and it’s just fun being in that situation.”

Not every club in the Mid-Atlantic participates in the Mid-Atlantic Cup, and it is an optional platform at the club’s discretion.

“Clubs are constantly looking at the diet of a player and what those athletes need to be successful,” Porter said. “How you choose to make sure those three pieces are in place – the competitive games, high-level player pool and high-level coaching – is up to each individual club. It’s up to the clubs to decide, and that freedom is really something that’s great about the ECNL and its platform.”

From the beginning, the Mid-Atlantic Cup has been about what the clubs feel is best for their athletes. In its first season, clubs are seeing success on and off the field. And with the ECNL Boys National Playoffs looming, along with the Mid-Atlantic Cup championship event, the opportunities to play in high-stakes games allow players to be at their very best each and every weekend. 

“Every club wants to give their players every opportunity to be the best they can be,” Porter said. “So we’re really excited about the Mid-Atlantic Cup and how that helps not only that competition but the Mid-Atlantic Conference as a whole. As we’ve gone on this season, the product on the field has gotten better and better. Every week the margins are tight and I think the more time players are investing in their team and in their club, the better the league is going to be.”