PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Thorns FC today announced that the Thorns Academy will begin play in the Elite Clubs National League Girls (ECNL Girls), the top youth league for young women in America, starting with the 2020-21 season.
“We are committed to the Thorns Academy and believe entering into this partnership with the ECNL will be key in its growth and success,” said Gavin Wilkinson, general manager and president of soccer for Thorns FC. “The ECNL is a proven national competition platform that will give our players the best opportunity to reach their full potential as we strive to develop players for youth national teams, top college programs and the first team.”
Established in 2014, the Thorns Academy serves as the youth development platform for two-time NWSL champion Thorns FC. Beginning in 2016, the Thorns Academy was one of the 25 founding members of the U.S. Soccer Girls Development Academy, and began play in four age groups (U14, U15, U17 and U19), adding a fifth team at the U16 level in 2019. By joining the ECNL, the Thorns Academy will add a sixth age group at the U13 level for the first time.
Under the direction of Academy Director, Laura Schott, the staff consists of six highly experienced and successful “A” licensed coaches that have all played and coached at the collegiate level that strongly believe in the Thorns development philosophy. Several current and former Academy players have been called in by U.S. Youth Regional and National Teams, including Olivia Moultrie, Shaela Bradley, Hailey Coll and Paige Lacey. Moultrie, 14, appeared with the Thorns U-19 team this past Academy season and was the youngest player to participate in training camp with the U.S. U-17 Women’s National Team in January, while she has also trained with the Thorns FC first team. Players in the Thorns Academy have the opportunity to attend Thorns FC home matches, earn practice opportunities, observe training sessions and train at Providence Park.
The Thorns Academy gives elite youth players a professional structure to work within daily and provides the best environment to develop top female players, together with showcase opportunities and competition. The Academy provides a further step in the elite girls developmental pyramid, from RTC, ODP, Academy, college and the first team. Additionally, there are currently eight Thorns Alliance Clubs across the region, while the Portland Timbers and Thorns FC also oversee the Olympic Development Program (ODP) on behalf of the Oregon Youth Soccer Association, along with eight regional training centers across Oregon and Southwest Washington.
The ECNL Girls is a national brand that includes eight conferences that span across the United States, including the Northwest Conference, which the Thorns Academy will play in with teams from Washington, California, Idaho, Utah and Colorado. The Thorns Academy will compete in regular-season conference games, cross-conference events and ECNL national events while trying to qualify for the ECNL playoffs.
About Elite Clubs National League Girls
The Elite Clubs National League Girls (ECNL Girls) was founded in 2009 to enhance the developmental experience of female youth soccer players in the United States through: (i) improving the competitive environment through creation of a true national competitive league; (ii) improving the process for identifying elite female soccer players through a systematic scouting and identification program based on national competitions; and (iii) improving the daily training environment at top female youth soccer clubs through developing best practices and training and organizational guidelines for its member clubs. The ECNL Girls is sanctioned by US Club Soccer and is sponsored by Nike Soccer.