Commentary

Girls Development Academy promises to be less expensive for players than ECNL

By Mike Woitalla

The U.S. Soccer Federation made it official on Tuesday:

It will launch the Girls Development Academy (GDA) in fall of 2017 -- a nationwide league with 60 to 80 clubs fielding teams at the U-14/15, U-16/17 and U-18/19 age groups.

Having launched a boys DA in 2007, the USSF will thus be in control of the highest level of youth soccer for both genders.

Since 2009, the U.S. Club-sanctioned ECNL laid claim to running elite soccer for American girls. The ECNL has 79 clubs nationwide that field teams at five age groups, from U-14 to U-18.

One great achievement of the boys DA, thanks in large part to fully funded MLS academies, is that it vastly increased the number of elite boys players participating at no cost or reduced cost.

So will the GDA be less expensive for players than the ECNL?

“It’s our plan that the cost will be reduced to play in the league,” said U.S. Soccer Technical Director April Heinrichs. “In general, U.S. Soccer is going to pick up a lot of the expenses in terms of running the league, so the cost will be less for the players.”

Ryan Mooney, U.S. Soccer’s Director of Sport Development, said that in premier leagues such as the ECNL and the Development Academy that require vast amounts of travel, per-player costs can range significantly from one club to the next.

“We want to make sure that we’re mindful of the cost impact that is reaching the end-user, both the player and their parents,” said Mooney. “Whether that’s through the cost we cover from an event perspective, whether it’s a reduction in registration fees, whether it’s scholarship program funding, etc. Those are all things we’ll look to contribute to the program to try to help minimize costs.

“At the same time I think it’s fair to say that there will still be a pay-to-play component, certainly from the onset, and we’ll see how that changes over time. It was no different eight years ago with the launch of the boys Academy and how that cost now has changed between then and now.”

Heinrichs said that the Federation has been discussing a Girls Development Academy for years and that a recent influx of financial commitment makes the timing right.

“For me it was quite simple,” she said. “When we looked at all these new resources post-World Cup win [in 2015] that want to invest in, be a part of and integrate with our youth national team program on the girls side – this was an easy decision. An exciting decision for us as well.

“Five years ago, we had two full-time employees in the girls youth national team program. Now we’re looking to hire potentially 10 to 15 new people to be involved and committed on a full-time, daily basis to improve the women’s game. And then there’s going to be a large budget to run the [GDA] ... and the full force of U.S. Soccer’s leadership and the ability to run a national league -- we’re already running the NWSL and the Boys Development Academy.”

A key difference between the GDA and the ECNL is that while the ECNL is age pure and requires clubs to field five teams, GDA teams will field three combined age group teams.

“The use of combined age groups will require clubs to form teams with a balanced roster of players from two distinct birth years,” reads the U.S. Soccer statement.

Heinrichs calls it a way “to get players playing up more naturally.”

“If I had a list of player development initiatives that help players grow, one of the top, top, top things on that list is playing up,” she said.

In the age-pure setup, clubs may resist moving players up because it decreases their changes of winning trophies. In the DA setup, for example, a team’s star player one year will be among the younger players every two years. Fewer teams can also mean fewer roster-fillers -- players who might not be suited for the elite level but are needed to round out the squad.

Moreover, by having to field only three teams, Heinrichs believes the GDA will be more inclusive to smaller clubs.

“Let’s say there’s a super club out there and they’ve got 60 girls teams under their umbrella,” she said. “It’s quite easy for them to put a team out there in every age group. But with a smaller club that’s doing it well -- and this is where I think our model is pretty attractive -- all they have to do is put out three really good age groups.

“I have seen non-ECNL doing things really, really well but they’re not a super club. They don’t have a business model that’s so huge that they’re all about making money. But they’re doing it well from the leadership standpoint. They don’t have so many teams, but their focus would be on getting the three age groups right.

“Having birth-year every other year with the Girls Development Academy makes it more elite and more inclusive of clubs that aren’t a super club.”

The other big difference compared to the ECNL or U.S. Youth Soccer leagues is that the GDA will ban players from participating in high school ball. That, Heinrichs said, will only affect “1 percent” of the players in girls youth soccer. And she expects players with college and national team ambitions to be OK with skipping high school ball.

That it doesn't ban kids from high school ball will no doubt be a selling point from the ECNL when it starts competing for players with the GDA, which begins taking applications this May for the fall 2017 launch.

The applications will be evaluated by U.S. Soccer technical staff on:

• Leadership of the club and quality of the coaching staff;
• Desire to embrace and promote the core values of the program;
• U.S. Soccer license levels of coaching staff;
• Infrastructure of the club and the resources currently being invested in development (facilities, scholarships, staff to player ratio, etc.); 
• History of player production for youth national teams, the senior women’s national teams, and professional leagues;
• Market and depth of the player pool, geographic location and travel implications, and proximity to other elite clubs.

34 comments about "Girls Development Academy promises to be less expensive for players than ECNL".
  1. GA Soccer Forum, February 23, 2016 at 12:21 p.m.

    I think it is safe to say, the war has begun. Heinrich comes off very much like a dictator. I think it just comes down to control, US soccer wants 100% complete control

  2. cony konstin, February 23, 2016 at 1:05 p.m.

    It is good that this is happening for couple of reasons. One gender equity. Two our ladies win world cups.

  3. Brian Ashley replied, February 23, 2016 at 2:36 p.m.

    Not sure that I want gender equity considering that the US women win World Cups and the Olympics and are the number 1 team in the world and the US men are the laughingstock of the soccer world.
    If we truly want gender equity shouldn't we raise the men up rather than drag the women down?

  4. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, February 25, 2016 at 6:34 p.m.

    Total lack of perspective. The USMNT has qualified for seven straight world cups and has reached the knockout stage in four of them, including a QF in 2002. The past two world cups they went out in extra time in the round of 16.

    Sure, there are other countries that have done better over that time, but laughingstock is absurd and totally inaccurate.

  5. R2 Dad, February 23, 2016 at 2:15 p.m.

    Shouldn't impact the ECNL model too much. They can backfill with adequate technicians to replace the 10% that will go to DA. The ECNL model is all about find a college soccer home for D2 and D3 players, anyway.

  6. Brian Ashley replied, February 23, 2016 at 3:21 p.m.

    Not sure what you're talking about. Most of the ECNL players in Minnesota who want to play D1 are able to. And if Minnesota players can do that I have to believe that New Jersey, Michigan, Texas, Florida and California players can as well.

  7. Brian Ashley, February 23, 2016 at 2:47 p.m.

    Hard to respect these arguments in favor of doing this. The US has the top women's team in the world with our current system, why would we want to change that?
    And how does playing up help anyone? That's pretty old school thinking. Playing up used to be necessary because there were few opportunities for girls. But playing up in youth soccer always had it's problems. Size differential and differences in physical development mean the younger player who is playing up is always in danger of receiving an injury that she wouldn't have received playing with her own age group. So, the obvious answer was to develop a system in which a good player doesn't need to play up. ECNL has done this. But, even if you think that it's still good to play up, Heinrich's reasoning falls short. There is nothing in the current system that doesn't allow a player to play up. Creating a multi age group DA team doesn't 'solve' that problem because that option has always been available.
    And how does a multi year age group give non "super clubs" the ability to field a team of DA players? If they couldn't field a team in the current system that allows play ups, how will they field a team in the new system by allowing play ups? It's the same dang thing. Except that now, they are actually removing 50% of the opportunities for players to play with and against other players who are just as good as they are. And if there is one factor in player development that everyone can agree upon it is that players get better playing with and against better players.
    Finally, does Heinrichs think that Malorie Pugh should not be on the WNT because she played High School? Otherwise I really don't see the need to ban High School. My daughter chooses not to pay HS, but that's a choice, not a mandate.

  8. Ric Fonseca replied, February 23, 2016 at 5:41 p.m.

    Mr. Ashley, I won't belabor your points, however, I cringe at your statement that if some girls want to play D! futbol-soccer they can, while I feel that you've forgotten one aspect of the equation and that is any player, I mean A-N-Y player that wants to play D! ball, must also qualify academically as well as athletically. The mechanism for offering a player an athletic scholarship is quite complex for some D1 university programs, putting the athletic prowess aside, the academic must go through some qualifications such as SAT/ACT scores, high school gpa, etc., and then one must consider just how much scholarship money the athletic department allocates for the non-revenue producing sports. Those university D1 & D2 coaches know that of which I talk about, while D3 programs do not offer athletic scholarships. So while the road is fraught with some roadblocks, of course not if you're that 17 year-old young lady (Ms. Pugh?)that is heading to UCLA, whose athletic prowess, paved the way for her and I am sure she passed the SAT/gpa formula for admission. Food for thought!

  9. Brian Ashley replied, February 23, 2016 at 9:44 p.m.

    Ric - Not at all sure what you're trying to say. Are you saying that girl's D1 opportunities are limited due to their lack of intelligence? Or are you pointing out that in Minnesota we may have some sort of unfair advantage due to our extremely high average test scores? Or are you just,... talking.

  10. Brian Ashley replied, February 23, 2016 at 9:47 p.m.

    Ric - Not sure why you say that our current model is based upon nothing since few other countries have something to compare it to. Why would that mean that our model is based upon nothing. On the girls side our top players play in the academy model and have a league that requires high standards of play at all age groups. Not having a Serbian girls soccer model to compare it to doesn't mean we don't have a model.

  11. Brian Ashley replied, February 23, 2016 at 9:50 p.m.

    Sorry. Meant that for All American.

  12. Brian Ashley replied, February 25, 2016 at 3:48 p.m.

    All American - Uhm, you might want to re-read your post up above. You did say exactly that.

    Look, the issue comes down to three questions: 1) Does our program need to improve? 2) If our program needs to improve should we scrap it and replace it or tweak it? and 3) If we choose to scrap our current program, what should we replace it with?

    From my perspective the answers clearly are: 1) Yes, any program can be improved upon. 2) No. Objective reality shows that our program is working. Our team is number one in the world against other countries that do put in as much effort as we do. And clearly the problems with our program are that we coach the girls to play far too direct a game. We use it as a strategy rather than a tactic. As the first few games of the World Cup showed, the girls/women can improve their game best by working on their game in small spaces and working on speed of play and quickness of their short game. That isn't addressed by these changes. And 3)The program they want to replace it with does nothing to address any problems with the women's game or with girl's youth development. It simply replaces a model that is working with one that id clearly failing.

    I'm sorry, but I can't see how any of the changes US Soccer is making will have any positive impact on the women's game.

  13. Brian Ashley replied, February 26, 2016 at 9:35 a.m.

    All American - Let's not fall into the trap of thinking that GDA will somehow be less expensive that ECNL. US Soccer will be able, through sponsorship, to reduce some of the cost, but unless the clubs start giving out a dang sight more scholarships to the girls it won't be anywhere near enough to lower costs enough for low income girls to get in the game. On the boys side it's not unusual for scholarship boys to arrive at an event without money for food and other player's parents have to take care of them. But far more significant is who is subsidizing the DA boys field time. It ain't US Soccer. It's the middle income players in the clubs, like the ECNL girls, who help to pay with their club fees for the field time the DA boys get.

  14. Lou vulovich, February 23, 2016 at 3:10 p.m.

    So, I am a little confused. Our clubs are producing the worlds best female soccer players, and we want to change that system to academy style. I thought you only change what is broken, like the men's soccer. You will end up with over coached players like the boys.

  15. Brian Ashley replied, February 23, 2016 at 3:20 p.m.

    Agree. Wouldn't it make far more sense to bring the men up to the standards of the women? I mean, who is winning?

  16. Brian Ashley replied, February 23, 2016 at 9:50 p.m.

    All American - Are you saying that the incredible success of the WNT is not the result of our current system? After all, if being the top team in the world isn't good enough for you, what is?

  17. Brian Ashley replied, February 25, 2016 at 3:41 p.m.

    All American - I can't agree that Germany, Japan and England, and to a certain extent Canada, don't take their women's programs seriously. They certainly do. It's a common refrain to say that we're only so good because the rest of the world is so bad, but at the top of the table this is simply not the case. I say again, every program could use some improvement. Nothing is perfect. But throwing out what has been working is a bad idea. But even if it were somehow a good idea there's no way that replacing it with something that has been proven not to work is silly in the extreme.

  18. Brian Ashley replied, February 26, 2016 at 10:35 a.m.

    All American - I'd like to think that this GDA move will lower costs significantly to the point that you're thinking of. But that's simply not going to happen. There are a lot of boys who can't afford DA. And those who can are already being partially subsidized by the ECNL girls club fees that help pay for fields, coaches and trainers.

  19. Lou vulovich, February 23, 2016 at 3:22 p.m.

    No, I guess it's to bring the woman down, so the men don't look bad.

  20. Brian Ashley replied, February 23, 2016 at 3:46 p.m.

    Lol. I suppose that's as good a reason as any given so far.

  21. Bob Ashpole, February 23, 2016 at 4:32 p.m.

    It is too bad that the USSF hasn't learned and from Germany's success and provide supplemental training instead of a redundant league structure to compete with existing leagues. Very inefficient.

  22. Ric Fonseca replied, February 23, 2016 at 5:45 p.m.

    If "gender equity" is supposed to be the norm, and the women's programs are the reigning teams in world futbol-soccer, why charge the GDA less than the men DA?

  23. Bob Ashpole replied, February 24, 2016 at 10:44 a.m.

    Ric, I think the public comments about the "costs" are the opening shots in the USSFs competition to take clubs away from existing leagues. Dangling vague comments in the media about USSF funding is intended to lure clubs away. In Germany the FA uses funds to hire competent trainers to scout and train in weekly breakout sessions the top male teen players as a supplement to the club experience. The training is done near where the players live so no significant travel is involved. It works. It is what the ODP program could be if USSF provided the coaches and concentrated on player development rather than matches.

  24. Brian Ashley replied, February 26, 2016 at 10:37 a.m.

    Bob - Stop making sense.

  25. Ric Fonseca, February 23, 2016 at 5:49 p.m.

    And now, I am a bit confused re the age years, aren't all playing age groups supposed to be of the same year of birth, and not have even-odd teams? Obviously I've missed something, so someone please explain this to me? Gracias!

  26. Brian Ashley replied, February 26, 2016 at 10:41 a.m.

    Yes, except in DA. DA uses "multi year age groups", that is 2 years in one age group.

    This is based upon an outdated model that made more sense when there weren't enough good players at every age group. But now that there are there is no reason to encourage kids to play up when there are significant size and weight differences that can cause unnecessary injuries.

  27. aaron dutch, February 24, 2016 at 9:46 a.m.

    I think this is a great change, There can now be smaller clubs formed in needs-based communities. This can help a whole new group of girls which have never had any real investment or development. Being able to have development in smaller areas of the US is great for the game. It also lets us get away from just a college development academy which is what the existing model is. It becomes more about the development of the full game. Long term this will be a great shift to a lower cost, less pay to play, less college academy, more access, innovation vs. the meta/super club system.

  28. Ric Fonseca, February 24, 2016 at 11:06 p.m.

    BRIAN ASHLEY: I never intimated that it is due for "lack of intelligence (sic)" As a former D1/2 coach, and having to have had to navigate the paper trail and processes, a process that the NCAA mandates, and controls the entry/admission process, is in and of itself an arduous and cumbersome one. It is all well, good and fine when one hears about Johnny or MaryLou getting a "full-ride," most everyone doesn't really know, e.g. the UCLA went through to ensure the award is given but not before making sure the player is admissable.

  29. Brian Ashley replied, February 25, 2016 at 3:53 p.m.

    Ric - Well then why don't you try to explain your comments that you can't see how female players are able to play D1. And how does a cumbersome NCAA process get changed by any of the changes US Soccer is putting in place?

  30. Brian Ashley replied, February 25, 2016 at 3:58 p.m.

    And no one is talking about "full ride" scholarships.

    Just because a kid doesn't get a full ride doesn't mean they aren't playing D1. Statistically the average women's D1 soccer scholarship is around 16,000 dollars per year. Many students could get that in an academic scholarship. It's not about the scholarship. It's about whether they are playing D1.

  31. Bob Ashpole replied, February 26, 2016 at 10:08 a.m.

    Brian, Ric's point is that only the academically qualified players have access to the D1 option. I think you misunderstood him.

  32. Ric Fonseca replied, February 27, 2016 at 2 p.m.

    Bob Ashpole, thanks for your support. However, I am stronglyh of the opinion that Mr. Ashbley doesn't seem to at least understand the entire process, so let me clarify a fine point: I have known of and have seen some very marginally academic admits to D1/2 universities, not only in soccer but in other sports, even after trying to figure out the gpa/sat score formula the NCAA mandates for an athletic the last word for an athletic admit rest with the department of athletics and the Admissions & Records officer whose part of his job description is specifically to determine the student athletes' academic aulifications; further, the student's athletic qualifications in almost 99.9% of the time have been vetted by the coach's vetting process, probably over a specific time period when the NCAA allow actually speaking to - read, recruiting/contacting - the student athletes. Finally THANKS TO ALLAN LINDH for his insightful comment.

  33. Fire Paul Gardner Now, February 25, 2016 at 6:39 p.m.

    Brian Ashley's strident arguments make me think he has some role in the ECNL and feels threatened.

  34. Allan Lindh, February 26, 2016 at 8:47 p.m.

    Cummon guys, the USWNT is world best because of Title 9, giving girls real goal to aspire to, college soccer. All this "inside baseball" stuff is just hot air. For most girls, improving high school soccer with clinics for coaches and refs would buy far more bang for buck, and would impact low-income high schools the most. And club soccer should complement high school, not replace.

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