“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.