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March 29, 2024, | Courtesy of

RICHMOND, Va. (March 22, 2024) – Over the last twelve months, the youth movement in the NWSL has ramped up under the league’s U18 Entry Mechanism, allowing NWSL clubs to each sign a maximum of two players under the age of 18. Over that period, seven ECNL youth players from six different clubs have signed professional contracts with NWSL clubs, many of whom are already making their impact felt.

Last March, Melanie Barcenas (San Diego Surf - San Diego Wave FC) became the first former ECNL player to sign through the U18 Entry Mechanism. Barcenas made seven appearances in the 2023 NWSL regular season for the San Diego Wave last season, as well as two starts and five appearances in the 2023 NWSL Challenge Cup.

In addition to Barcenas, Emeri Adames (Solar SC - Seattle Reign), Kennedy Fuller (Solar SC - Angel City FC), Claire Hutton (World Class FC - Kansas City Current), Riley Jackson (Concorde Fire Platinum - NC Courage), Alex Pfeiffer (St. Louis Scott Gallagher - Kansas City Current), and Casey Phair (PDA - Angel City FC) have all signed through the NWSL U18 Entry Mechanism within the last eight months.

“The number of young players going straight into the pros is a testament to the quality of development work that is being done at so many of the youth clubs in the league,” said ECNL Commissioner Ralph Richards.  “Congratulations to these players who are seeing dreams realized, and congratulations as well to all the coaches, teammates, and family that helped them reach this stage.”

With the 2024 NWSL regular season kicking off last weekend, many of these young players already made their professional debuts, highlighted by Alex Pfeiffer becoming the youngest goal scorer in NWSL history (16 years 3 months and 20 days old) when she scored Kansas City’s fifth and game-winning goal in the Current’s 5-4 season opening win over the Portland Thorns.

“It was a surreal moment,” Pfeiffer said, via The Athletic. “When I saw the ball bounce in the box and I realized I was gonna get there, I was like, my brain is going crazy, but at the same time, I’m telling myself to be calm and just put it in the back of the net. I’ve done it a bunch of times and then after that, I was just swarmed and I was so excited.”

“It’s huge for any player in her generation,” Current head coach Vlatko Andonovski said after the game. “She’s proved that it’s possible, we proved that all together that it’s possible.”

In addition to Pfeiffer, Claire Hutton made her debut for the Current, playing 90 minutes in the victory. Kennedy Fuller started for Angel City FC and played 89 minutes in a close 0-1 loss, while Emeri Adames came on as a substitute at forward in Seattle’s 1-0 victory, and Riley Jackson came on in the midfield in North Carolina’s 5-1 win.

All of the past week’s debuts come on the heels of the success of McKenna Whitham (Slammers FC), who at 13-years-old scored a last minute game winning goal as a non roster invitee in a preseason tournament for Gotham FC in February, making her the youngest player ever to score for an NWSL club.


About the ECNL:

The ECNL is the nation’s leading youth soccer development platform. The ECNL respects and celebrates the unique individuality of every youth soccer player and club, supporting and enabling them to unleash their unfettered passion and fierce tenacity in striving to achieve their potential. 

The ECNL mission to Raise the Game is a total commitment to create the best possible environment for players, coaches, referees and administrators, with a determination to constantly question convention and challenge the status quo in youth sports.

The ECNL Commitment:

We will lead, set our eyes on new horizons, and pursue them relentlessly. Born out of the belief in a better way. Continued in the ever-evolving pursuit of excellence.


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