Elite level ECNL boys soccer has arrived in San Diego ahead of schedule, and is here to stay.
The Boys Elite Clubs National League (Boys ECNL) was founded to provide a top level, club-based development, training, and competition platform for youth male soccer players in the United States. As San Diego County’s only ENCL program, the DMCV Sharks supports the mission of improving the landscape for players in the United States through innovative, player-centered programming that raises standards of quality and improves the player experience in all aspects of the game.
Give all you have for each other every day we are together and the results will come. -Coach Barton, DMCV Sharks
“We joined ENCL late in 2017 so that we could offer our players a full range of soccer,” said Shannon Mac Millan, Director of Soccer for the Sharks. “The ECNL is a highly regulated league with limitations on recruiting from other ECNL clubs, mandating that we enter a team at every age group, etc. As a result, we knew the early years would feel like being an expansion team, but entry into this league was worth the growing pains for the future that lies ahead.” These growing pains included enduring a tough first season (2017) as Sharks teams shifted from a typical competitive soccer regimen to the more rigorous ENCL schedule which required teams to travel across the SW United States, including AZ and NV to compete. They often came up against teams who had played together for several years and who were accustomed to the level of play (translation: wrong end of lopsided games).
The struggles of the first season did not deter the Sharks as they prepared for the 2018/19 season. “We figured it would take 3 seasons to develop our teams, so they were competitive in ECNL” said Mac Millan, “Given current results vs 2017, it’s clear we are way ahead of that pace.” The results include significant improvement in quality of play (wins/draws up 2017-2018) and goals scored over the same period. These factors and more help determine if the club is in “good standing” with the ECNL. The “good standing” designation is required for the Sharks to game as sole San Diego County ECNL Member Club in the Southwest Conference. Mac Millan was quick to credit the dedication of the Sharks families, the Sharks’ training curriculum and most importantly the innovative approach of the Sharks’ coaches as the key reasons for the earlier than expected success.
Warren Barton, head coach of the Sharks B15 and U16 boys teams exemplifies this excellence. Heading into the break for the high school season, his Sharks BU15 team is 9-1-3 (3rd) and the BU16 squad is 7-5-2 (5th). Notably, under Barton’s leadership, both teams went undefeated at the 2018 Thanksgiving Surf Cup (“Best of the Best”), winning a combined 5 matches with 1 draw against nationally elite players. We caught up with Coach Barton to find out the essentials of his teams’ success.
We simply give all we have for each other every day that we are together. It’s the same approach I had growing up in the UK and I knew as long as they believed in what we are doing, the results would come in time.
Coach Barton has two rules 1) be loyal to your team by showing up on time and giving your best effort and 2) be patient for results. He credits the hard work of his players and the support of the parents as key reasons for the success. “It creates a team culture of having pride for playing for one another, the same culture I enjoyed back in the UK with my brothers where soccer was everything to us,” said Barton. In fact, all of his players are San Diegans, which he says is a “hotbed of soccer.” Staying local has strengthened the family-like atmosphere; evidenced by his admiration for each of his players: Barton described at least one noteworthy aspect of every single one of his players during the interview.
He knows the path to success. Although the BU15/16 teams are still several years from college, many of Coach Barton’s former players have gone on to play collegiately in all three American Divisions (D1-D3). In addition to Barton alumnus playing on NCAA programs, one of his former players suits up for the Icelandic National Team. Still another, Milo Barton, plays professionally for the Seattle Sounders FC at just 20 years of age.
Coach Barton sees the same high potential within his team and across the club because of the personalized approach: “It’s about helping players become the best player they were born to be,” explained Warren. “What I learned from playing professionally is that there are many different styles of play that result in success. What I focus on is identifying the style to put the (Sharks) player in their right, most natural position and then personalize their training to help them succeed.” For the players this means specific technical training and even unique assignments for the players when the work with the Club’s strength/conditioning coaches.
The approach not only works for the player development, it gives Coach Barton’s teams an unstoppable advantage during matches. “We can construct 8-10 different strategies seen in modern Premier League soccer by simply moving players around and allowing them to play to their natural strengths,” smiled Barton “as a result, teams don’t really know how to strategize against us. It’s a great sense of accomplishment for us to succeed in so many different ways.”
Given Barton’s pedigree and playing experience, its easy to understand why players and families trust in the approach. “Although Warren’s resume gives earns him instant credibility, its his recent track record of developing young talent that should be most exciting to our players,” offered Mac Millan. While Mac Millan admits wins and goals are an obvious indicator of success, she has noticed the efforts are beginning to pay dividends in the form of new opportunities for Coach Barton’s players. “7 players of his players have been invited to ODP (Olympic Development Program) tryouts this December, up from 4 last year. His teams are typically attracting about 25 college coaches to each showcase match which is translating into more opportunities for the kids to play in college. That is off the charts good!”
Unlike Development Academy Teams which typically train/game all year long, both teams are on break from ECNL as the majority of the players compete with their local high school teams. “The break and opportunity to play soccer with their high school friends is actually a huge positive at this age,” admits Coach Barton. “We find they come back in the spring refreshed and eager to join their mates in the club program. Long term, it can be a real positive over the DA option.”
Barton sees this approach working its way into the culture of all the Sharks other teams as they are steadily improving in the quality of their play. Still lots of work to do but with the BU15s leading the way, the future the Sharks Boys ECNL teams is ahead of schedule and certainly looks bright.