Home to 30 clubs and nearly 425 teams and 6,000 players for the Spring 2021 season, the New England Club Soccer League has grown significantly since launching in May 2020.
Those are some quick facts as league director Sean Carey and his colleagues expand the NECSL’s footprint across New England.
Home to clubs big and small, Carey hopes that the NECSL provides a home for ones of all sizes. Asked about that very topic, he makes an analogy via his background as a third-grade teacher.
“In teaching, you don’t get to just work with the smart kids or those who are super polite,” Carey said. “Your goal is to make sure everyone has access and does as well as they can, makes the most of their year. At some point you realize that anyone can teach the smart kids, that’s the easier part. But who can help all the kids?
“I look at it the same way with club soccer, where every club in the New England Club Soccer League, a bigger club would take them under their umbrella in a second and put them in the league they’re currently in. Just by a change of uniform, they’d be deemed good enough to play in that league, and we all know it doesn’t work like that.”
That translates into teams from bigger brands like FSA FC, Connecticut FC and Oakwood competing in the same league as smaller outfits like Boston Vigor FC, Mach 1 FC and the New England Navigators. There are even those like New England Surf, Juventus Academy Boston and Rush New England, which are all growing their local footprint.
Whatever size or background a club has, Carey takes confidence in their quality of coaching, end goal and standards.
“Some were big brands, and the club soccer world was moving at such a rapid rate that they’re regaining their footing now,” Carey said. “It’s an opportunity for us to work with people that believe in what they’re doing and want to be a standalone entity. So there are bigger clubs with the bigger name, and we’ve got some smaller clubs that I have no doubt have some dedicated and committed staffs. We’re looking forward to seeing them all be successful at the right level of play.”
The NECSL is aligned with the New England Conference of US Youth Soccer’s National League, with some teams getting promoted after their Fall 2020 performances. Others can come down if that higher level isn’t right, creating a system where everyone is challenged at an appropriate level. Some NECSL clubs are fielding their top team, while others have lower-tier ones entered.
Spring 2021 NECSL games are slated to get underway April 10 and 11, with eight match days carrying through June 5 and 6. The season will be capped by a championship weekend June 12 and 13, with flexibility in place should the COVID-19 pandemic disrupt plans.
The NECSL has five clubs in Rhode Island, allowing for a Rhode Island-only conference if state guidelines limit travel across borders. The Stateline (Connecticut-centric) and Metro (Massachusetts-centric) conferences allow for a similar dynamic should the pandemic require changes.
All along, Carey said there are lessons learned from the Fall 2020 season. Nobody quite knew what to expect last August and September, yet teams returned to action.
“I think a lot of it is we had a great fall season, the inaugural season,” Carey said. “There was a lot of diligence on the club’s part in terms of wanting to make sure that they were following best practices and guidelines as mandated by the state and by Massachusetts youth soccer, people not wanting to take any shortcuts on health and safety. But it was still wanting these players to have a sense of normalcy in their schedule and what to expect.”
Now, as clubs prepare for the Spring 2021 season, the NECSL hopes for smooth sailing as it approaches year No. 1. Carey began the league last spring after departing the New England Premiership, giving him a strong background in this arena.
“It’s just being proactive, being player-focused, being professional, having good partners and trying to make the landscape better for everyone,” Carey said. “That’s really what drives us.”
Jonathan Sigal is the Director of Content for New England Soccer Journal, overseeing all print and digital efforts. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @JonathanSigal.