The UPSL and ECNL have both carved out significant niches, offering different pathways for aspiring soccer players.
Whether you’re a player, parent, or coach, understanding the differences between these two leagues is key in determining which one aligns best with your goals and aspirations.
Today, we will dissect the UPSL and ECNL, taking a look at their unique characteristics, structures, and opportunities.
All About ECNL
Founded in 2009, ECNL stands as a prominent player, operating under the auspices of US Club Soccer.
While its main focus is on nurturing talent and securing pathways to collegiate soccer, the ECNL has much more to offer.
Age groups from U13 to U19, this league has earned a reputation as the top choice for girls and a close contender to MLS Next for boys.
However, it’s important to recognize that the league’s reputation may not always reflect the individual club experience, making it crucial to base your choices on more than just the league’s standing.
One notable advantage of the Boys ECNL is its unique stance on high school soccer, which sets apart it from the MLS Next.
Many Boys ECNL member clubs permit players to simultaneously participate in high school soccer. This flexibility offers players an extra layer of choice when it comes to pursuing their soccer ambitions.
Key features of the ECNL :
- Emphasis on Player Development: It is known for its dedication to developing young soccer talent. The league’s main goal is to provide players with the training, competition, and resources needed to excel.
- Selective Membership: ECNL clubs are carefully chosen based on their commitment to player development and quality coaching. Membership is highly competitive, ensuring that players are exposed to top-tier competition.
- Collegiate Pathway: It is considered a strong pathway for players seeking collegiate soccer opportunities. The league actively supports players in the college recruiting process.
- Professional Exposure: While it is predominantly a youth league, it does provide a platform for players to gain exposure to scouts and professional opportunities, especially for those who show exceptional potential.
All About UPSL
The United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) occupies a unique position within American soccer.
As a national adult soccer league directly affiliated with the United States Soccer Federation, it holds an unofficial status akin to the fourth division, alongside the likes of the NPSL and USL League Two.
However, the UPSL is more than just a league; it’s a diverse melting pot of talent, attracting current and former college players, along with ex-professionals.
Intriguingly, the UPSL is not confined to just adult soccer alone.
In recent times, it has become a magnet for youth soccer clubs, many of which are either forming their own UPSL teams or affiliating with existing ones.
Their collective goal is twofold: to create additional opportunities for their players and to gain exposure for their club.
What sets the UPSL apart is its inclusive approach, as it allows teenagers to participate, contingent on individual team preferences.
This flexibility means that some clubs may call up only a select few top youth players, while others view the UPSL as a means to provide additional games for their older teenagers.
Key features of the UPSL:
- Community-Centric Approach: It focuses on grassroots soccer, with clubs often representing specific regions or cities. This approach encourages a strong sense of local pride and community involvement.
- Promotion and Relegation: Its structure includes a promotion and relegation system, offering clubs a chance to climb the ranks or face the challenges of a lower division based on performance.
- Diverse Player Pool: It puts up different kinds of player skill levels, allowing for the participation of both amateur and semi-professional teams. This diversity can provide a unique and inclusive soccer experience.
- Opportunities for Advancement: While it may not be the traditional pathway to professional soccer, the UPSL can serve as a stepping stone for players looking to gain experience, improve their skills, and potentially catch the eye of scouts or professional clubs.
Which Should I Choose Between ECNL & UPSL?
ECNL undoubtedly stands as a leading contender.
It has established itself as the go-to platform for aspiring players seeking college opportunities. ECNL teams regularly participate in various college showcases, attracting several college scouts to the events.
Moreover, ECNL teams often collaborate with local colleges to facilitate scouting at league games.
While the UPSL majorly focused on adult soccer, has a different approach.
With most of its players being older, it doesn’t host formal college showcases. Instead, individual players in the UPSL have the option to invite prospective college coaches to their games.
Some UPSL teams have established relationships with college coaches or have connections to them, leading to a small number of players being recruited through these connections.
Playing in the UPSL can still offer valuable benefits, especially for youth players aspiring to play college soccer.
It provides an opportunity to gain valuable game tape against older and more competitive players.
This exposure allows college coaches to assess how well youth players adapt to the physicality and intensity of the college game, which is a significant consideration in their recruitment process.
BUT, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
Your choice should align with your unique soccer journey and personal aspirations.
Whether you lean towards the ECNL or the UPSL, both leagues offer valuable experiences and opportunities.
I’d recommend you to have an open discussion with coaches, teammates, and mentors, and to carefully assess your own goals, priorities, and preferences.
By doing so, you can confidently make the choice that best suits your individual path in the world of soccer.
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Can ECNL & UPSL Lead to Pro?
Dreaming of a professional soccer career is a goal shared by many aspiring players, but the pathways to reach that level are evolving.
The Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) and the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) are both prominent soccer leagues, yet it’s important to understand that neither of them guarantees a straightforward route to professional soccer.
The traditional route to the pros through college soccer has shifted in recent years.
MLS and European clubs now place greater attention on identifying young talents early and integrating them into their academies.
While scouts do attend some ECNL games, the ECNL doesn’t offer a direct connection to professional teams like the well-structured MLS NEXT does.
Similarly, the UPSL has a different dynamic.
Scouts generally don’t pay substantial attention to UPSL games, except for lower-tier teams.
The majority of UPSL players are older and, although highly skilled, may not have the first-division professional potential sought by scouts.
While some pay-to-play teams may market themselves as pro-development programs, it’s important to scrutinize where their players have gone and whether they’ve successfully made the leap to the professional level.