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Youth Soccer: Rewards of the ECNL

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Orlando City's participation in the ECNL provides young female athletes the opportunity to develop their skills and abilities, and better equips them for participation in college athletics and maybe even the USWNT.

Orlando City SC

Women's sports have come a long way in the eyes of public perception. Where once they were viewed at best as secondary -- and at worst as irrelevant -- today there seems to be a better appreciation for the athletic contributions of female athletes. Although the equality gap between the two genders in sports remains wide, there has been progress made in narrowing it.

One such organization assisting greatly in that progress is the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL). This national non-profit organization provides young female soccer athletes the opportunity to develop their skills and abilities at the highest competitive level through national and regional competitions, and allows them to receive professional coaching and more focused daily training.

As a member of the ECNL, Orlando City SC fields teams in all five levels, from U-14 through U-18. The OCSC teams are doing well in this 2014-15 season.

Orlando City's U-16 squad is undefeated and sitting in first place in the Southeast Conference with a conference record of 8-0-4. They also have the best goal differential in conference at +17, scoring 22 goals in the 12 games played thus far. In addition, the U-16s rank seventh in the Champions League standings, where their record improves to 10-0-5 with a whopping +21 goal differential.

Goal differential is a major issue  for the U-18 squad at the moment. While their 14 goals in 12 games is respectable, their 32 goals conceded has them sitting fourth in the conference, with a record of 5-5-2. It's not the worst of situations, and they are coming off an impressive showing in Sanford to close out December, going 2-1-0 in three games. However, there is certainly room for improvement when the team returns from January break.

The ECNL teams return to action on Feb. 8 and hopefully it kicks off a successful close to solid season for all Orlando City's teams. The U-14 and U-17 clubs both sit in second place in their conference with 7-2-2 and 8-3-1 records, respectively. While the 7-3-2 record of the  U-15 squad has them third in conference.

I find it difficult to overstate the importance of programs like these for today's young female athletes. The simple opportunity to shine and excel in a sport that they love is incredibly rewarding by itself but the example of equality is of much greater importance.

Enabling and assisting these girls in pursuing their athletic dreams, and giving them the same opportunity afforded boys, helps to instill a greater sense of self esteem and a higher level confidence going forward.

In addition, the program assists in opening doors into colleges and universities. Of the 41 athletes to advance from Orlando City into the ranks of college athletes, 27 were girls.

As a father of three, with two boys and one girl, it makes me smile to see programs like this allowing for my daughter to have to same opportunity as her brothers.