Smith said the club made the decision to join ECNL because of its quality and approach to soccer, UFA’s familiarity with the league, the timing of the end of DA and the lack of information coming from MLS, which is supposed to be starting a new DA-type platform. MLS made its announcement that was very short on details a few hours after USSF made its.
“We want to set certain standards and don’t want to lose them,” Smith said. “ECNL provides an equal platform. For us, it was a good choice.”
UFA accepted its invitation to join ECNL shortly after the DA announcement April 15. ECNL President Christian Lavers said no decisions to add clubs were made hastily. Doing so, he said, would undermine the league’s mission of providing a holistic approach to soccer development in all areas from players to coaches to referee to organizational structure.
“We have a great platform and are very strong in what we believe in,” Lavers said. “It’s been great to see so many clubs that want to be a part of that platform.”
Still, when the DA announcement was made, ending more than a week of reports of its pending demise, Lavers said everything moved at “warp speed.”
The ECNL member map for boys clubs shows groupings of teams in nine conferences. Five clubs from Atlanta, Concorde, which didn't respond to phone messages, UFA, GSA, NASA/Tophat and Atlanta Fire United, are in the Southeast Conference of the boys platform. The Southeast Conference is currently composed of 16 teams from Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
The member map of girls clubs has eight conferences. Five clubs or teams, Atlanta Fire United, Concorde Fire Platinum, Concorde Fire Premier, GSA and UFA, are in the Southeast Conference, which is currently composed of 12 teams from Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
Smith and Laver said the regional groupings will hopefully reduce travel costs compared with competing in DA because the trips are shorter. In DA, teams from Atlanta would compete against teams from Raleigh, N.C., to Miami.
The ECNL season in the Southeast will start in August if sheltering mandates are relaxed or lifted. A conference schedule typically is 14-20 games a year, with at least six more games in national showcases, which provide opportunities to play in front of college scouts. The girls national showcase can feature as many as 500 college scouts.
ECNL doesn’t play during the high school soccer season so that the players can participate in that if they choose.
ECNL also won’t prohibit clubs from competing in the new MLS venture as long as its teams field their strongest lineups in its competitions. Smith said only the deepest clubs would be able to compete in both ventures.
Not all Atlanta-based clubs are moving their teams from DA to ECNL.
AFC Lightning Executive Director Steve Muccillo said his club’s DA team will move to the National Premier League.
Jonathan Cueva, Director of Coaching for Lanier Soccer Association, is still gathering information, looking for the best fit demographically and geographically. Like others, he said he hasn’t heard from MLS about its new venture.
He has set a deadline of May 1 to make a decision where to move his three teams that competed in DA. He described it as the million dollar question.
“When DA disappeared, the landscape of soccer changed completely,” he said. “In a perfect world, if one year ago I knew this it would have been easier to redo the work we started 3-4 years ago.”
NASA/TopHat and Southern Soccer Academy also had teams that competed in DA. They didn’t return phone messages.
Whatever leagues are selected by the various clubs for their teams, Muccillo said he’s confident that youth soccer in Atlanta will continue to develop.
“Atlanta has done a great job producing top players,” he said. “I think there is a really, really good infrastructure in metro Atlanta. It will hopefully be a quick adjustment.”