FC Alliance youth soccer club’s girls program is one of two in the nation becoming worthy of “Elite” status — literally — in 2017.
This West Knox County club with lots of Farragut players has been invited to join Elite Clubs National League, “which is considered the top girls youth league in the country,” said Filip Leander, FC Alliance Girls ADC director and a state championship coach with the club. “For example [all] 11 of the 11 All-SEC this [past] year were all ECNL. They put more players in college — it’s not even close — than any other club. Right now 67 percent of the SEC … are all alumni of this league.
“Basically, any player that is a Division I [major college] candidate, generally, is drawn to the league,” added Leander, also noting that FC Alliance is only the second Tennessee club ever invited into ECNL, joining a club in Nashville.
Within ECNL in the Under-14 through Under-19 leagues involving “serious college prospects,” FC Alliance has one team in each age group. That adds up to “125 to 140 kids,” Leander said.
“We’re in the Ohio Valley Conference with Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and New York and one other state,” he added about states grouping together in a Spring conference based on when their high school girls teams play, which is Fall. “I believe there are now 77 ECNL clubs in the nation.”
As for the routine, “… Kids get on a tour bus, like a pro team … and let’s say we’re playing in Pennsylvania. We’ll play two games on one away trip. One against Pennsylvania, and then probably New York will come to Pennsylvania,” Leander said. “The kids will have three of these scripts per season. Then we’ll have home games.
“You play against the best teams in the country. … It also improves visibility,” he added.
Leander said ECNL development begins “at U-11 and U-12, with U-13 playing a “very limited” ECNL schedule. “The earlier you get your better players together, the better your team’s going to be,” he said.
From the U-15 level upward, “If you win your conference, you go play in the national playoffs, which occurs in the summer,” Leander said.
Until FC Alliance’s breakthrough, “Tennessee has been shut out as a state from this league for seven years,” he said. “We have lost kids from this state to ECNL teams in Atlanta, for example, and there’s one in South Carolina, where they will literally commute there to play on those teams.”
This is the youth soccer equivalent to what it would be in professional football “if the NFL granted Knoxville a franchise,” Leander said.
As for how FC Alliance broke through and gained ECNL status, “They’ve observed us for years,” Leander said. “We’ve been trying to get in for seven years. … They basically look at your success at putting players into college soccer; your success in terms of wins and losses at the older levels; then they look at your people, and then they look at what your plan is to develop players.
“Then after that you just have to cross your fingers. A lot of very good clubs are told ‘no’ every year,” he added.
Along with FC Alliance, ECNL “added a club in California, outside of San Diego I believe” in 2017, Leander said.