On December 6-7, the U15-U18 FC Wisconsin Eclipse teams finished their fall competition schedule with back-to-back Midwest Conference ECNL games against Vardar SC in Pontiac, MI. The performances over the weekend were another indication of the improvements being made by the Wisconsin players against the country’s best youth female soccer teams.
The U16s finished the weekend with a 3-1 win on Sunday, an improvement over the 2-2 result the day previously. Sunday’s game was deadlocked at 0-0 at halftime before FC WI Eclipse took the second half kick-off straight down the field and a Bianca Stubler cross was nicely laid back by Mikaela Hoard for Taylor Kerwin to finish as she came forward out of midfield. After a Vardar own goal from a contested set piece doubled the lead, Kerwin would claim her second goal of the game to make the score 3-0 on a simple open-goal finish after good defensive pressure forced a Vardar turnover in the final third. The result was a significant improvement from Saturday, when Kerwin and Hannah Lech both found the back of the net but leaky team defense led to a 2-2 tie. Sunday’s game showed significant improvement in the play of the back four, as Christina Barczak, Katie Slater, Maddie Hoitink and Taylor Tabbert all set a much more physical and determined tone to the game in tackles and determination to win airballs. Hannah Lech also set a higher standard for herself, consistently disrupting the Vardar midfield throughout the game. Any late attempts by Vardar to create some excitement in the final minutes were nicely snuffed out by goalkeeper Jen Wandt.
The U18s were minutes away from a well-earned 1-0 victory on Saturday when a late, but well-finished, Vardar corner kick goal forced the sides to split the points and settle for a draw. Steph Fabry had staked the Wisconsin team to the lead on a nice individual run midway through the first half, but chances for both sides were few and far between throughout the game. The Vardar goal came despite a very solid defensive performance for Wisconsin. In the rematch on Sunday, FC WI Eclipse was without midfielder Gaby Dorsey who was a late scratch for precautionary reasons – and her loss was significant. A 0-0 halftime score changed early in the second half, and with a late thunderbolt from 35 yards, Vardar would claim a 3-0 win over a depleted and exhausted FC WI Eclipse team.
The U15s continued to show their progress throughout the weekend, but came away with two losses as they continue to work towards closing the gap with the conference’s best teams. One of the highlights of the weekend saw Lindsey Weiss return to action for the first time in 9 months after an ACL tear, and she marked her debut impressively. It took Weiss less than 30 seconds after coming on in the 25th minute to score her first goal, and she hit the post 2 minutes later. It was a fantastic moment for the young player to cap 9 long months of rehab – and it was loudly celebrated by players from multiple age groups on the sideline. Steph Franczak’s impact in midfield was felt in both games, and she marshalled the group especially well on Sunday when an Emma Roemer goal made the score 1-1 in the 60th minute. A few late Vardar goals, and a questionably called back FC WI Eclipse goal, meant a late loss for the young Wisconsin team.
After a tight 0-1 loss on Saturday, the U17 team rebounded for an even tighter 2-1 win on Sunday. On Sunday, a Vardar clearance off the goal line at 0-0 from a Marlee Lane shot was the only thing separating the teams and a point for FC WI Eclipse. Similar to the U16s, the U17s were far more determined to take points on Sunday, and they raced to a 2-0 second half lead off goals from Mary Kate Simon and Adi Johnson. Simon rose above the crowd to head home a Jess Cooley corner to open the scoring, and Adi Johnson darted across the back four to finish another Jess Cooley serve in the run of play 5 minutes later. The two goals provoked a determined response from the Michigan outfit, who took one goal back in the 75th minute. Though they created more chances in the final third, strong goalkeeping from Lilly Mueller and good defending from Payton Wesley, MacKenzie O’Connell, and Kate Del Fava locked down a much needed victory.
“On Saturday night, we spoke a good deal with the program about what it means to be a part of this club, and what it requires to succeed in the ECNL,” said coach Vito Parente. “Work, toughness and coachability are all things that do not require skill – and they are demanded every day at this level. While this message is often repeated in the club, it was good to really sit down and talk in depth about it again. The players responded well on Sunday, and showed that they know what it means to play for this club.”
"The older players refer to the end of the fall as a grind for a good reason," said Director of Coaching Christian Lavers. "The ECNL was created to get the best players across the country together and have them compete against each other every weekend in meaningful games. The U17s and U18s have been through this several times, and they know what it takes. The ECNL level and consistency of competition is physically and mentally hard, but it is incredibly rewarding to see young players grow, mature, and learn what it takes to be great. We are very proud of what these teams have done this fall, the culture they have created, and the improvements they have made."
The U16 and U17 teams will next take the field at the ECNL National Event in Sanford, FL from December 28-30. All of the teams will continue training through December, as they continue to push their boundaries and improve, before taking the month of January off to rest and recover from the fall.