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Families looking for a more intensive soccer experience may want to explore club soccer, which is generally characterized by professional coaches and competitive tryouts.

The first site you should check out is Mass Youth Soccer: www.mayouthsoccer.org

Here, you will find lists of various leagues. Many of these are "town team" leagues, such as Nashoba Valley, in which Littleton participates. However, several "club" leagues are also under the broad jurisdiction of Mass Youth Soccer. These include MAPLE, NEP and MASC.

Depending on the team's level of ability, a number of different league options are also available to Massachusetts clubs which are outside the purveyance of Mass Youth Soccer. Also, it is not uncommon for a single club, which will have a number of boys and/or girls teams in various age groups, to place these clubs in different leagues, depending on their abilities.

As of 2012, then, here is a list of the most prevalent leagues in which Massachusetts club teams can play, including (ranked roughly by level of play) :

   DAP (boys only) , ECNL (girls only)
   Region 1 (boys and girls, play in, invitation only),
   Subregionals  (boys and girls, play in or invitation only)

DAP stands for "Development Academy Program". It is an attempt by USSF to develop, in the US, an "academy system" similar to those in Europe. Every MLS team has to fund a DAP team. In addition, there are a number of DAP teams not affiliated with a specific MLS team. The catch here is, it's free if your son plays for an MLS DAP team, but expect to shell out big bucks if your son makes a non-MLS team. Either way, expect alot of travel: DAP teams travel around the country to play each other.
There are currently two DAP clubs in Massachusetts:
  1. New England Revolution DAP
  2. Boston Bolts DAP

ECNL stands for "Elite Clubs National League", and was formed in 2009 to raise the bar for girl's soccer in much the same way as DAP was for boys. As with DAP, expect to travel.

Region 1 is invitation only: the state cup winners from each state which comprises Region 1 gets to play in this elite league. Academy teams cannot play in state cup, and cannot play Region 1. Massachusetts teams in Region 1 should expect a couple trips as far as New York.

Below Region 1 is Subregionals, formally "Region I Northeast". Teams apply, the strongest are accepted. The winners of a subregional flight are promoted up to regionals for the next season. Subregional teams should expect to travel as far as New York.

MAPLE used to be the big gorilla in the Mass. club soccer landscape. In older age groups, it is divided into D1, D2, and D3. At the end of each season, the bottom few teams in each flight get relegated to the next lower flight, and the top few teams in each flight get promoted to the next higher flight. Teams which get relegated out of MAPLE D3 go to MASC.  (I think MASC might be tiered, but I'm not positive.)

At the younger age groups, flights are still tiered but are "color coded". This seems to be alphabetically, so that a "blue" flight will be much tougher than a "white" flight.

Since 2009 or so, another organization, the New England Premier league, has come into being and started gaining some traction. Many of the historically stronger MAPLE teams have started moving, at older age groups, to NEP. And in the past, some teams which got relegated out of MAPLE chose to jump to NEP rather than move to MASC. Consequently, NEP is currently a bit of a melting pot (and MAPLE slightly more diluted than in the past.

Also to consider is MPS (Mass Premier Soccer). At younger age groups, at least, these clubs only played each other and weren't that strong. At older age groups (U16 on up), however, the reverse seems to be true.

A number of the local clubs, including Benfica, NEFC and Stars, run good summer camps, and you don't have to play for them in order to attend their camps.

The Fall and Spring season typically consists of team practices a couple days a week (and if applicable, GK practice another once or twice a week), and then games on the weekend ... MAPLE games are Sundays, NEP games are either (agreed by the coaches) Sat or Sun.

Up through U14, clubs play both a Fall and Spring season in which ever league they are in.  Once a kid makes it to U15, however, they play only in the Spring (due to playing school in the Fall). Just because a season gets eliminated, however, don't expect team fees to go down much.  :(

Club tryouts are restricted to a single span of five days or so in June. Be aware that it is something of a dance: clubs will try to restrict you from trying out for other clubs by asking you to come back (if you are a bubble player), or trying to lock you in right away (if you are exceptional). As a parent, it is paramount for you to have a strategy of where and when you are going to have your player try out, based on a realistic assessment of their ability as well the the team they are trying out for. Well in advance, you should go to the websites of teams you are considering, find their tryout schedule, and set up your tryout schedule for the week.

Club costs are partially dependent on which league the team plays in.  However, they generally range from the most expensive clubs (Blazers) to midcost clubs (NEFC, Stars) to less expensive clubs (Benfica) ... Expect to pay anywhere from $4K to $1.8K.  A few get by cheaper, but you generally get what you pay for, and none of those clubs are really close to Littleton anyway.

Usually kits are a separate cost, and usually the fee covers one or two tournaments automatically... If your team does more than that, you ante up. And if your team does the *major* tournaments (Disney, CASL), you would of course be paying all travel costs for player and parent. Usually, only the very *top* teams do this type of travel, but you should ask.

If you go to the Wayland FAQ, their section "What should I look for in a club soccer team" is particularly good – most of the rest is pretty outdated.

For more info on ...
DAP: www.ussoccer.com/teams/development-academy/faqs.aspx
ECNL: www.eliteclubsnationalleague.com/overview/About/index_E.html
Regionals: regioni.usyouthsoccer.org/
Subregionals: tournaments.usyouthsoccer.org/events/2011-Region-I-Northeast-League
NEP: www.nepremiership.com
MAPLE: www.maplesoccer.com/
MASC: www.masoccerconf.org
MPS: http://mpsbr.com/

Best list of Massachusetts soccer clubs we've found:

Do you have more information, or a favorite club in the area?  Send it in, and we will post it for the benefit of other Littleton families.