The splintering of top-level club soccer for girls in the United States is a complicated issue, with the Elite Clubs National League and the Girls Development Academy League, a newer league funded by U.S. Soccer, sparring for dominance.
Empire United, one of the original clubs invited to participate in the U.S. Soccer Girls DA in 2017, has learned this season will be its last as part of the league. The news affects three teams directly, in the under-14, under-15 and under-16/17 age groups. The academy's players and parents were notified Tuesday.
"U.S. Soccer called and told us they liked the plan we submitted on how to keep progressing the Girls DA in WNY," said Kevin O'Neil, who serves on the board of directors for Empire Buffalo, a major branch of Empire United. "They recognize that we had made great strides with our improvement from year 1 to year 2 in the DA.
"However, they feel that on the girls side, there simply is not enough talent in the player pool here in Western New York, especially considering the strong push and emotional attachment to still play high school soccer, which keeps a lot of players from joining the girls DA, [in order to] fully compete in the Girls DA at this time."
The Empire U-14s hold a record of one win, 14 losses and one tie; the U-15s stand 2-15-2, while the U-16/17s are 0-15-2. The combined record of 3-44-5 certainly factored into U.S. Soccer's decision to sever the relationship. The DA season concludes June 8.
O'Neil confirmed the Empire girls would continue to participate in U.S. Youth Soccer's top league, the USYSA National League, in the Great Lakes Conference, as well as participate in regional and national tournaments, plus the college showcase events for applicable teams, as usual.
U.S. Youth Soccer Association, which manages the various State Cup tournaments, is run by a different organization than both the ECNL and the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. Empire's website has an archived article that describes why the club trusted a U.S. Soccer-backed youth initiative.
The Empire Girls DA teams trained and played their home games at Empire United Soccer Center in West Henrietta, a suburb of Rochester, with a portion of the players making the trek from the Buffalo area (Lancaster, Grand Island and Clarence are among the towns represented). The future direction of the academy-level Empire girls (not the club as a whole) beyond next year, however, appears uncertain.
U.S. Soccer's decision does not impact the boys side of the Development Academy, which began in 2007 with the goals of identifying and consolidating the top youth soccer players in the country, with superior coaching and high-level competition meant to wholly exceed what high school and travel soccer offered.
For the first four years, boys were permitted to play both high school and in the development academy while, from the outset, girls could not compete in both. This is a major departure from the policy of the ECNL, which allows girls to play both high school and club, even if club responsibilities typically take higher priority.