Is Pre-ECNL Worth It?

If you’re headed to the U11 or U12 age groups, you may be hearing about pre-ECNL. Here’s what you should know.

Is Pre-ECNL legit?

Some youth soccer clubs have a history of trying to use the names of other competitions to sell themselves. For example, in the days when the US Soccer Development Academy was the top league in the country, many clubs started calling themselves Development Academy even if they weren’t in the league.

In the case of pre-ECNL, it’s actually affiliated with ECNL. While ECNL doesn’t run pre-ECNL directly, it does require pre-ECNL leagues to get its approval. If a league tried to call itself pre-ECNL without ECNL approval, ECNL would presumably go after that league for trademark or other violations.

What is Pre-ECNL?

Pre-ECNL is a U11 and U12 league. The official ECNL league only offers U13 to U19 age groups. ECNL is a heavy travel league, and younger players don’t need to be traveling that much.

Unlike the national ECNL league, pre-ECNL leagues are independent state or regional leagues. They’re kind of like a franchise that ECNL only controls loosely, so each league is slightly different.

Pre-ECNL teams play in a smaller area than ECNL conferences. To fill their schedule, pre-ECNL conferences include both ECNL teams and non-ECNL teams.

Is pre-ECNL the best league?

Pre-ECNL will usually be the best U11 and U12 competition in a local area. It may fall second in places where MLS NEXT clubs have formed their own junior league (there’s no official pre-MLS NEXT, but their leagues are the same concept as pre-ECNL).

Pre-ECNL is definitely far ahead of city-based leagues and even other statewide leagues. That’s because ECNL clubs are usually among the biggest and have the best training. When they invite non-ECNL clubs, they usually pick the next best clubs.

Of course, playing pre-ECNL usually means you’ll be paying more in club dues and travel expenses.

Does playing pre-ECNL give you an advantage for ECNL?

There are no guarantees that playing pre-ECNL will get you into ECNL, but it does give some advantages.

If you play for a pre-ECNL team at an ECNL club, there’s a good chance that you’ll stay with that team when it reaches the ECNL ages. However, note that some ECNL clubs have multiple pre-ECNL teams in each age group and may have more pre-ECNL players than can fit on a single ECNL team.

As a general rule, pre-ECNL players will get better training and more experience playing against better players. The other usual factors apply such as the quality of the team’s coach and whether you can get more playing time on a different team. So playing pre-ECNL is often, but not always, a good way to develop into an ECNL player.

One thing that you really want to watch out for with pre-ECNL or the ECNL Regional Leagues is non-ECNL clubs making false promises or leading people on. Some pre-ECNL and ECNL-R clubs lead their parents to believe that they’re next in line to join ECNL. So if you play for them now, you’ll be in ECNL next year. And then when the club doesn’t get ECNL, it’s always next year.

That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with playing for the non-ECNL clubs in general. They could be closer to home or just be a better fit for you. There will still be chances to try out for other teams in older age groups. And at the end of the day, pre-ECNL is still 10 and 11-year-old soccer.

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