The first ECNL event of 2020 took place in Sanford, Florida on January 10-13, and Wisconsin’s best were there as the FC Wisconsin U16 and U17 teams performed strongly in front of hundreds of watching college coaches.
Over the weekend the club picked up 4 wins from 6 games, valuable points in the post-season playoff race. The U16 team completed a 3-0 weekend with tight wins over FC Bucks (PA) and Concorde Fire Premier (GA), followed by a blanking of Florida Kraze on day 3. The U17’s dropped their opening two games, but performed well in each, and got their reward on day 3 with a convincing win over Concorde Fire Premier (GA).
Two long range goals were enough for the U16’s to overcome FC Bucks in a performance that made up in grit what it lacked in quality. Izzy Arnold got FC WI on the board in the first half, and in doing so sparked FC Bucks to life and an eventual equalizer late in the first half. The second period was mostly a stalemate with defenders Lucia England and Megan Cornell holding firm, giving goalkeeper Kate Nonn a relatively trouble free game in her ECNL debut. The game looked set for a tie as the clock ticked past the final minute until Dri Alberts, determined to justify the decision to move her in to midfield, slammed home the winner from 25 yards.
A pair of defensive mix-ups marred a good performance from the U17 team on day 1, as they fell 2-1 to FC Stars (MA). A mis-communication at the back allowed FC Stars to poach the opening goal 20 minutes in to the game. FC Wisconsin battled back immediately and dominated large parts of the game, with Ahnna Faust and Haley Johnson controlling the midfield while Maggie Starker was a constant threat running at the back line. It was Starker who created the equalizer mid-way through the second half, as her shot crashed of the bar and was neatly converted by Anna Franceschi. The game would have a sting in its tail however, as another mistake allowed FC Stars to convert a corner late in the game a take all 3 points.
Saturday brought a much better U16 performance and a well-deserved win over an athletic and attack minded team from Concorde Fire (GA). A defensive mix up created an early scare for FC WI, but it proved to be the wake-up call they needed as almost immediately after it they took the lead. A fluid passing move through midfield ended with Frances Sisk squaring the ball for the onrushing Alberts to score her second goal in as many games. FC WI piled on the pressure and more chances would come and go before Englund expertly doubled the lead, cutting inside her marker before firing low and in off the far post. A Concorde goal in the 55th minute created some tension during the closing stages of the game, however the U16s showed their resolve by battling to the end to preserve the win.
The U17 team were out to impress on day 2 against Tampa Bay United in front of a packed sideline of college coaches, and for most of the game provided great entertainment. A pair of penalty kick goals from Maggie Starker kept a very competitive game level at 2-2 in the 70th minute. It would be fair to say the team from Wisconsin were in the ascendancy at that point, with Franceschi and Tori Bunz pressing high and serving several dangerous balls in to the box. However a counter attack goal from Tampa Bay deflated FC WI and led to a late collapse and two more goals against as the game ended 2-5. The importance and impact of the closing stages cannot be overlooked, however once again there were a number of positives in the overall performance.
A tired U16 team still looked good value for their 3rd win of the weekend on Sunday against Florida Kraze. The mid-day heat caused more problems as both teams struggled with fatigue, however the FC WI players out-ran their opponents and provided more quality throughout. Lilliah Blum expertly lobbed the goalkeeper with almost the last kick of the first half, and then doubled the lead in the 60th minute with an excellent individual goal. As the team from Florida began to fade in the heat, FC WI looked comfortable and controlled in the second half, with Marisa Grzesiak delivering quality service out wide, and Caitlin Dominski showing plenty of skill and creativity in midfield.
A determined U17 team took to the field against Concorde Fire on the final day ready to turn performances into results, and Maggie Starker’s third converted penalty of the weekend gave them the lead in the 15th minute. The size and speed of the Concorde forward line was a significant threat, but it was a deflected clearance that led to their equalizer after they were largely kept at bay during the first half. There was to be no collapse this time as Concorde began to tire and FC WI rose to the occasion. Maggie Starker scored twice more to complete her hattrick and a personal 5 goal weekend, while Tori Bunz added two goals and a great performance in a more advanced role than usual to complete an emphatic 5-1 win.
Both teams will join the U13-U15 age groups at the final showcase of the season in Houtson, TX, February 15-17. While they know it will take a few more wins to secure ECNL playoff spots, they leave Florida a step closer and full of confidence after positive weekend for the club.
Beyond the performances on the field, the FC Wisconsin players were seen by more than 150 different colleges over the course of the weekend, just part of the more than 740 college coaches in attendance at the event: