• May 16, 2022

This weekend more than 105 teams from more than 50 clubs got to experience a hallmark of the ECNL: its national events. 

ECNL South Carolina kicked off Friday with U13 and U14 age groups, many of whom featured players and teams getting their first taste of an event. With ECNL signage everywhere, teams sitting on the sidelines watching and supporting their peers, and athletes weaving through the merch line waiting to get exclusive event gear, the atmosphere was electric.

It’s a staple of the league, one that coaches, parents and the athletes themselves were excited to experience. 

“Our kids were looking forward to it,” said Cleveland Force coach Chris Green. “This is a new experience for them, playing one game a day for three days and the treatment they get at the facilities. It’s been cool. They were excited to experience it because some of them have older siblings who have done the showcases, and now it’s their turn.” 

Walking into the Manchester Meadows complex for the first time really struck the Cleveland Force players. This wasn’t your average, everyday event. They felt like professionals, getting ready to play an important match. 

“They were really excited, they knew this event was different,” Green said. “Seeing the signage, the banners and then the complex we were at, it’s a really cool experience. The medical treatments, the Gatorade tents, the ECNL towers. Everything. The parents have said the complex is fantastic too. Everyone has been blown away so far.” 

The competition level has matched the feel of the event. For three days, teams competed against other teams from outside of their conference, presenting new challenges these athletes haven’t seen before. Being able to play clubs from around the country is a big plus for everyone attending ECNL South Carolina, and something the coaches and players feel is important for development. 

“It’s good for us to see where we’re at with some of the other top clubs and conferences at the U13 and U14 age groups,” said VDA Technical Director Matt Lacey. “It brings another level of excitement. It’s a good way for us to measure ourselves against good organizations and good competition. For our players, there’s an excitement factor, but there’s also a real high emphasis on the development of being able to adjust and adapt to other teams and their style of play.”

Experience at events like ECNL South Carolina, just a few short weeks before the ECNL Boys National Playoffs, allow players to understand and adapt to an atmosphere where the stakes are higher, and grant teams an opportunity to measure themselves against potential competition in the postseason. 

“These events get us out of our comfort zone,” said CESA ECNL Boys Director Victor Pace. “Our goal is always to get to the national playoffs. So ECNL South Carolina is like a pre-playoffs for us, with our teams already qualified for San Diego. We can use this as a preparation event to gauge where we’re at in certain areas.” 

One of the aspects that makes ECNL events so impactful, especially for team and player development, is how the schedules are made. Teams play three games in three days, and all are against teams of similar team performance levels. This creates highly competitive matchups and where every player will have the chance to grow. 

“You come to these events and you get matched up with teams that are similar to where you are on the table in different parts of the country,” Pace said. “We really enjoy that. It’s a great way for our players to be tested and we know every game will be competitive. These events are so well run and so organized, and that means a lot knowing we’re going to be in a good place when we arrive.” 

The development doesn’t just prepare the athletes for upcoming events or postseason play. For the U13 and U14 age groups, events like ECNL South Carolina lay the foundation for the rest of their ECNL careers. And once they reach the U15 age group and older, events will become more and more frequent for recruiting and developmental purposes. 

“ECNL South Carolina has given our kids an eye-opener of what it’s going to be like long-term in the ECNL,” Lacey said. “The overall feel and look of this event is really exciting, and we want them to feel at home when they go to national events as they get older, when they matter a little more. We want them to be prepared for that moment and that the event isn’t a new thing for them. So for us, it’s an introduction of where we want them to be, and we’ve enjoyed every event we’ve gone to, regardless of age group.” 

And just as important as it is for the athletes to feel comfortable on the field, it’s equally important for them to feel comfortable off the field. 

“This event gives us a chance to bring families together, to bring the team together with team meals, team activities, things outside of the games,” Lacey said. “The social bonding of the players and families is just as important as what we do on the field. Those things make a big difference to the culture of what we’re trying to do as a club, but it also adds to the culture of the league as well, because I’m sure many other clubs feel the same way.” 

Events are just one aspect of ECNL Boys as a whole. But they are a microcosm of what clubs, teams and athletes experience in the league. 

“I’m thrilled we’re in ECNL, because this is the pathway that is the best for our kids, to get them playing collegiately and even professionally,” Green said. “It was just announced we were joining the ECNL Regional League – Great Lakes Alliance next year, and we’re incredibly excited to add another opportunity for our athletes under the ECNL umbrella. These events are definitely a plus and already we’re seeing the benefits of being here this weekend.”