Real Colorado and the Dallas Texans leave Girls Development Academy for ECNL

In major blow to the U.S. Soccer's Girls Development Academy, Real Colorado and the Dallas Texans are the latest clubs to defect since the Girls DA launched in 2017, when it began competing with the ECNL (founded in 2009) to be the nation's top girls league.

“Real Colorado have played in both leagues,” said Lorne Donaldson, the Executive Director of Coaching of Real Colorado, whose alum include Mallory Pugh and Sophia Smith. “The ECNL is a better environment for the overall development of our student athletes, on and off the field, and we are excited to be back.”

After spending two seasons fielding teams in both the Girls DA and the ECNL, Real Colorado left the ECNL and in this 2019-20 season is playing only in the DA. In April 2019, Donaldson told Soccer America that turf war between the DA and the ECNL had created a "toxic environment for these kids. It’s actually no fun right now."

Real Colorado and the Dallas Texans were founding members of both the ECNL and the DA. The Texans left the ECNL after playing in both leagues for one season, 2017-18.

“We are excited once again to compete in ECNL,” said Dallas Texans Director of Coaching Hassan Nazari. “Dallas Texans have always addressed the need of its members.  We respect the platform that ECNL has created for women’s soccer and are proud to be back.”

After the Girls DA's first season, the clubs that jumped ship and stayed in ECNL included the Michigan Hawks, whose alum include world champions Lindsay Tarpley and Kate (nee Sobrero) Markgraf, who now serves as U.S. Soccer's women's national team general manager, and PDA, where Tobin Heath and Heather O’Reilly played youth soccer. FC Stars of Massachusetts, Virginia Development Academy and Illinois' Eclipse Select SC also left the DA after one season.

Among the issues cited by clubs leaving the DA are U.S. Soccer's ban on high school soccer, its prohibition on players participating in competitions outside of DA-sanctioned events, substitution rules (eg: no re-entry), strict guidelines on how to coach, and stringent coaching license requirements.

Last year, Donaldson said of DA "restrictions" that, "You’re not supposed to manage the club the way you used to manage it even though you’re smarter than the people who are making the rules. Most of the people making the rules have never run a club in their lives. But they’re making the rules that a lot of times don’t make sense. ... The biggest one is the high school [ban]. You tell me why a kid can’t play high school soccer?"

In April 2018 interview with Soccer America, FC Stars' Director of Coaching Jason Dewhurst upon his club leaving the DA said that the DA sub rules combined with it not allowing outside competition  severely limited playing time. That if a player saw 15 or 20 minutes in DA game, she wouldn't be allowed to suit up with an NPL team to get more action. And that the high school ban kept some its top players out of the club's DA teams. "There are certain restrictions that we thought were not best in line with our philosophy. … It could change, one day, with the Federation … I don’t know," said Dewhurst.

Two years later there's been no sign of U.S. Soccer changes its regulations, and both its Boys and Girls DA will be smaller for the 2020-21 season.

A U.S. Soccer press release that came out on March 10 hours after ECNL's announcement about Real Colorado and the Dallas Texans' return said that four current Girls DA clubs will be adding teams to older age groups but indicated no additional clubs joining the Girls DA for the 2020-21 season. The fielding of fewer clubs next season is part of what U.S. Soccer calls a "limited growth" strategy to improve current clubs and "close the gap between the top and bottom clubs."

U.S. Soccer did not provide the names of the clubs whose memberships have not been renewed, but described the reason for dismissals as an "inability to provide meaningful competition/meet standards." Soccer America estimates that five Girls DA are being cut.

9 comments about "Real Colorado and the Dallas Texans leave Girls Development Academy for ECNL".
  1. Bob Ashpole, March 10, 2020 at 8:45 p.m.

    USSF has been getting a lot of practice at spinning news lately. Let's hope the men qualify for the Olympics and ease the strain on USSF's credibility.

  2. William Mcginty, March 11, 2020 at 11:04 a.m.

    DA's purpose is to develop, maybe a few hundred women for future USA Soccer teams.  ECNL's purpose is to develop a lot of great soccer players, 38,000 playing at college women's soccer programs.  So women get a great experience playing High School soccer and a lot move on to D1,D2 and D3 programs.  

    A great experience for a lot of players.  For the DA players who don't go on to playing for a USA team, do they look back and feel they missed playing with their friends in High School?

    How many great athletes drop out of soccer because of restrictions on playing  Basketball, Lacrosse and Track. Maybe at some point you need to pick one sport, but a 7th or 8th grader should work on becoming a better athlete.

    Let girls enjoy the wonder of healthy competitive sports.  ECNL embraces this objective. Does DA?  I'm sure they think they do, but impedements like substitution rules, game restrictions and of course limitations on High School soccer hurt a lot of girls in the DA programs. 

    There should be room for development of really Good Players and the few Great Players. Hope the powers that be, resolve this turf war for the good of a lot of girls and soccer. 

  3. Kevin Sims replied, March 11, 2020 at 11:21 a.m.

    Well stated, sir

  4. Bill Dooley, March 11, 2020 at 12:59 p.m.

    More DA clubs with girls’ programs will do this. 


    Kudos to ECNL.  They messed up big time last year by essentially forcing dual membership clubs like Real to drop their DA affiliation in order to stay in ECNL.  (It was an offer that Real and others declined.)  A recent interview with ECNL President Christian Levers - found at Top Drawer Soccer - reveals a striking departure from that sort of one-size-fits-all, my way or the highway mentality.  This could be a most welcome breath of fresh air for all of youth sports. 


    US Soccer on the other hand continues to demonstrate how unsuitable it is to run programs for younger athletes, especially on the girls’ side. Their high school age GDA player not only gives up school soccer.  She gives up all other sports, being in band, a school choir or play, DECA, debate club, student government or anything else that requires significant extra-curricular time.  She forfeits the involvement with schoolmates that attends to these activities and limits much of her high school experience to what happens from 8:20 to 3:30, Monday thru Friday.  More significant is the loss of peer recognition; far more will attend a high school girls’ soccer or basketball game than will attend any club soccer game, even a championship match.  While that may be OK for the 100-200 current GDA players (out of 5000+) with any reasonable chance of becoming the 15-20 who will be capped with the WNT, it’s hard to imagine that the disconnect with one’s high school community is, or will be remembered as, something positive. (continued below)



  5. Bill Dooley replied, March 11, 2020 at 12:59 p.m.

    The myopic focus of US Soccer on the pathway to National Team play is seen in other ways.  The U14G Talent ID national camp has been scheduled for May 18-23. This will be the last week of the 8th grade school year for some, the week before the last for others.  The Developmental Academy had all of the girls’ teams U15 and above in a week-long tournament in what was the last full school week in December - also the last full week of a school semester in many areas. 


    What are these people thinking?  It’s hard to imagine a more complete disregard for the academic interests of these athletes.  But it is totally in keeping with an indifference, if not disdain, for their lives off the pitch.  It just boggles the mind. 

  6. Danny Cruz, March 11, 2020 at 1:53 p.m.

    Danny Cruz 
    One who has seen the turf wars for 40 years. Several leagues have come and gone. Also remember, west coast vs east coast two different cultures of football for girls and boys. More colleges and the history on the east coast. I'm from Cali have been blessed to coach some of the finest girls in this sport, dating back to the  early 80's. Playing in every league we could or not because of licensing (National D) or club status not by team status. Coaching HS 25 years I had players play and not play including my own players. Because out here (west coast) politics play a ( good old boys club if your in) I could not get teams in( jealous). Nationally ranked teams.We joined the WPSL at U-16. With soon to be 3 National players. Megan, Rachel Rapinoe and Stéphanie Lopez-Cox. The boys team ranked #1in the Nation couldn't get into the NPL out here. Forced our hand so we didn't play USClub in Nor Cal but beat every champion from Nor Cal. The boys team played CYSA North and National League and did tournaments playing over 100 games. We still put players in Div. 1,2,3 and NAIA  every year. It still comes down to how you manage your players and who and how you get them in front of scouts and college coaches. Their are many players out their that are not on DA and ECNL teams that could easily play at that level. Many factors play into families making that decision. Out on the West Coast we have teams bragging about these clubs to recruit you to come and still come in last place or just enter their club teams. Yes, we need a overhaul!
    its not just about money!!

  7. Derek Armstrong, March 11, 2020 at 2:30 p.m.

    It seems that there is a need for heads coming together in our sport . Leadership at USSoccer has to realize that the coaches in the academies are a rich source of experiance and probably the best avenue for good ideas for creating a pathway to excellance for players in the USA .There is another alternative .They can hire people who have proven experiance in this so important subject which does not seem to be happening . They simply must listen to the mood out there or we will continue to read headlines like todays clubs leaving .

  8. Louise Waxler, March 11, 2020 at 2:36 p.m.

    Can someone please answer this question:  Why is US Soccer competing against its own members?  Where in the US Soccer by-laws does it state that their purpose is to create leagues in the youth game? They continue to benefit financially from their affiliate members for which they are already collecting fees.  Other than further diluting the player pool and mandating no high school soccer, not certain they have accomplished much of anything.  No doubt this is the result of ECNL being a successful and viable program that was established as a result of US Soccer's inability to be proactive. When will the turf wars end? And what has happened to the youth task force (that just happens to lack female representation)? Thanks William for initiating the conversation.  

  9. humble 1 replied, March 18, 2020 at 2:29 p.m.

    Well, doesn't the DA program effectively transfer money, resources and to MLS academies and didn't the boys DA start in 1997 the year after the MLS started?  Isn't it true also that a lot of the owners don't even want their academies, but that it was an edict from MLS?  So one could argue that DA exists as a way to prop up the MLS academies for the 'product' they try and sell that they are 'clubs' when really they are for profit franchises not necessarily rooted in their communities.  They have to allow non-MLS academies, but isn't it true that recent actions show the MSL academies are treated 'different'.  I am an MLS fan, understand they are on a continuum, and this was part of a larger 'plan' to build up soccer in America, but maybe the time come to rethink, maybe the plan has stagnated, and the now it is a bottleneck, maybe even a stumbling block and they need to move in a different direction.  

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