This weekend, many ECNL players from across the country experienced their first-ever national event, a hallmark of the league experience that stands out above almost anything. 

At ECNL South Carolina, more than 140 teams from 55 clubs across three age groups played three games in three days. They walked through the event’s courtyard, wove through The Shoebox and enjoyed games on 15 different fields throughout the day. 

It’s been something these teams have been looking forward to for weeks. Players brimmed with anticipation after being on the sidelines of their older siblings’ games, eager for the chance to play teams outside of their conference for the first time. 

“It’s special for the girls,” said Ricky Newton, FC Stars Head Coach. “A lot of players on our teams have older siblings within the club. So for years they’ve been traveling to watch their older siblings play in ECNL showcases. Players have been talking about it a lot during practice. They’re doing research online about the teams that they’re playing, looking up their conference and records. There’s been a lot of building excitement.” 

While clubs like FC Stars have been coming to ECNL South Carolina for years, other clubs, such as Racing Louisville, are relatively new to the platform, which makes coming to events new and exciting, not only for the athletes, but for the parents as well. 

“​​I know from a coaching standpoint we were really excited to come out here with the younger age groups because we’ve been at the ECNL events with the older teams,” said Tim Nowak, Racing Louisville’s Director of Coaching. “We know these events are an environment that’s different from any other tournament or showcase or anything else that exists. It’s just a different feeling. The competition is so high. We were really excited to get the players and the families here so that they could see it too. And the event hasn’t missed a beat this weekend.”

Events like ECNL South Carolina allow Racing Louisville to play teams from outside the Ohio Valley for the first time. Three games against different opponents playing different styles, all allowing them to gain valuable developmental experience that will pay dividends later in their careers. 

“I know our teams’ biggest excitement is to play teams outside of our conference,” Nowak said. “It’s really cool, just for them to be able to see and feel what’s going to be like for the next four or five years at other ECNL events. It’s great to prepare them for this, so when they show up in a couple more years and 800 college coaches are on the sidelines watching them play, they’re not intimidated. They’re ready to just get right to work.” 

Like Racing Louisville, FC Stars also uses events to prepare its athletes for the next level. Coming to ECNL South Carolina, FC Stars play tough competition in all three games. Those games, facing new challenges and having to fight through different adversity, pushes their development forward. 

“Experience is everything right? If you’re traveling to an event at 16 years old for the first time, and you see hundreds of college coaches on the sidelines, that can be really daunting, that can be really overwhelming,” Newton said. “So having the opportunity in the middle of our season to come to a warmer climate, with great facilities and play some different teams that we never normally play against, it’s a really great experience. And then in a couple years, when we come back and the kids are at recruitable ages, they have the mentality, ‘We’ve done this many times already. We’ve got this, it’s just another game.’”

Along with FC Stars and Racing Louisville, numerous clubs have raved about MeSA Sporting Complex. Paired with great competition, having great facilities is what makes ECNL events feel important and professional. For CESA’s ECNL Director Andrew Hyslop, that means the host club is having an exceptional weekend as well. 

“ECNL South Carolina,  for us, it’s about showcasing the Greenville area and letting people see what our club has to offer from a facility standpoint,” Hyslop said. “Hopefully they feel that we welcome them to Greenville, they have a great time and want to continue to come back. I’m honestly more concerned with making sure that people that are at our facility are enjoying themselves. I like seeing everybody in Greenville and enjoying the games.” 

Like every other club coming to ECNL South Carolina, CESA has been anxiously waiting for the event weekend. But it’s been especially special for the younger age groups to see their home facility transform right before their eyes into the central base for an ECNL event. 

“Us being the home club, we’ve hosted this event for the past few years,” Hyslop said. “So for our younger teams, it’s a great opportunity for them to get to play great competition and stay at home. This past week, they got out to the fields and see it getting prepared for the event. And that motivates them for playing in the event this weekend. They really liked seeing their home complex transformed for the event.” 

ECNL events are an experience unlike any other. For ECNL South Carolina, it’s the first taste of a league hallmark, one the athletes will participate in for years to come. It’s filled with great competition and making memories that players and athletes will remember for years to come. 

The ECNL career is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And it really begins at events like ECNL South Carolina.