“Real Colorado have played in both leagues,” said Lorne Donaldson, the Executive Director of Coaching of Real Colorado, whose alum include Mallory Pugh and Sophia Smith. “The ECNL is a better environment for the overall development of our student athletes, on and off the field, and we are excited to be back.”
After spending two seasons fielding teams in both the Girls DA and the ECNL, Real Colorado left the ECNL and in this 2019-20 season is playing only in the DA. In April 2019, Donaldson told Soccer America that turf war between the DA and the ECNL had created a "toxic environment for these kids. It’s actually no fun right now."
Real Colorado and the Dallas Texans were founding members of both the ECNL and the DA. The Texans left the ECNL after playing in both leagues for one season, 2017-18.
“We are excited once again to compete in ECNL,” said Dallas Texans Director of Coaching Hassan Nazari. “Dallas Texans have always addressed the need of its members. We respect the platform that ECNL has created for women’s soccer and are proud to be back.”
After the Girls DA's first season, the clubs that jumped ship and stayed in ECNL included the Michigan Hawks, whose alum include world champion Lindsay Tarpley and Kate (nee Sobrero) Markgraf, who now serves as U.S. Soccer's women's national team general manager, and PDA, where Tobin Heath and Heather O’Reilly played youth soccer. FC Stars of Massachusetts, Virginia Development Academy and Illinois' Eclipse Select SC also left the DA after one season.
Among the issues cited by clubs leaving the DA are U.S. Soccer's ban on high school soccer, its prohibition on players participating in competitions outside of DA-sanctioned events, substitution rules (eg: no re-entry), strict guidelines on how to coach, and stringent coaching license requirements.
Two years later there's been no sign of U.S. Soccer changes its regulations, and both its Boys and Girls DA will be smaller for the 2020-21 season.
A U.S. Soccer press release that came out on March 10 hours after ECNL's announcement about Real Colorado and the Dallas Texans' return said that four current Girls DA clubs will be adding teams to older age groups but indicated no additional clubs joining the Girls DA for the 2020-21 season. The fielding of fewer clubs next season is part of what U.S. Soccer calls a "limited growth" strategy to improve current clubs and "close the gap between the top and bottom clubs."
U.S. Soccer did not provide the names of the clubs whose memberships have not been renewed, but described the reason for dismissals as an "inability to provide meaningful competition/meet standards." Soccer America estimates that five Girls DA are being cut.