Is UPSL or ECNL Better?

UPSL and ECNL both attract elite players, but both leagues play two very different roles.

About ECNL

ECNL is a premier youth soccer league under US Club Soccer. It focuses on placing players in college soccer. It has teams in the U13 to U19 age groups.

Most people recognize it as the top league for girls and a close second to MLS Next for boys. Of course, individual clubs can vary, so your choice of where to play should be based on more than league reputation.

One advantage of Boys ECNL over MLS Next is that most member clubs allow players to play high school soccer.

About UPSL

The United Premier Soccer League is a national adult soccer league affiliated directly with the United States Soccer Federation. This places it in the unofficial fourth division category and on the same level as NPSL and USL League Two.

UPSL has a mix of players including current and former college players and ex-professional players.

Many youth soccer clubs are forming UPSL teams or affiliating with one. The goal is to provide additional opportunities for their players as well as exposure for their club.

Teenagers can play in UPSL depending on the individual team’s preferences. Some clubs may only call up one or two top youth players, while others view UPSL as a way to get additional games for their top older teenagers.

College Exposure

ECNL is the hands-down winner when it comes to college exposure. ECNL teams attend several college showcases each year with dozens of college scouts in attendance. ECNL teams also routinely coordinate with local colleges to scout league games.

UPSL has no formal college showcases as most of its players are older. Individual players can invite prospective college coaches to a game. Some UPSL teams have college coaches or connections to college coaches, and a small number of players are recruited that way.

Playing in the UPSL can be a good way to get game tape playing against higher competition and older players. College coaches often wonder how youth players will adapt to the more physical college game.

Path to Pro

Neither league offers a solid path to professional soccer.

Fewer players enter the pros through college soccer as MLS and European teams focus on identifying players earlier and getting them into their academies. While scouts still watch some ECNL games, there is no direct connection to the pro teams like there is in MLS NEXT.

Scouts also don’t pay much attention to UPSL games except for lower-tier teams. Most players in the league are older and while very good, don’t have first-division pro potential. Some pay-to-play teams advertise themselves as pro-development programs, but you should look carefully at where their players have gone.

Where to Play

A youth soccer player trying to play in pro or college should generally play in ECNL, MLS NEXT, or other top youth leagues. Even though it’s a national league, UPSL should only be used as an extra source of games.

When costs are a concern, UPSL can be a somewhat viable alternative. However, the reduced number of games, fewer training sessions, and less access to college coaches mean that players who choose to only play in UPSL will usually be at a disadvantage in college and pro scouting.

UPSL is also a good league for players who want to continue playing at a high level after youth or college soccer.

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