The ECNL National Events have not only the best games in the country, they are the biggest recruiting events in the country. The final ECNL National Event of the regular season for FC Wisconsin Eclipse saw the U16s and U17s continue to make their presence felt and their improvement obvious, as the club finished with another winning record of 4 wins, 3 losses, and 2 ties.
At U16 and U17, each team in the ECNL plays in 3 ECNL National Events, playing 3 games in each event across top teams from other ECNL Conferences. At U15, each team participates in 2 ECNL National Events with a similar schedule format. The games provided unmatched college exposure for the players, while also determining seeding and qualification for the ECNL Play-Offs.
The U16 team finished ECNL Texas undefeated, in the process climbing up to the #5 team in qualification for the post-season ECNL North American Cup. Day one saw the team cruise to a 3-0 win over Utah Avalanche on the back of two goals from ECNL debutante Emily Valentine. The team performance showed huge improvement in possession and combination play - showing the hard work the team has put in through the winter months. On day two, the U16s jumped out to a 2-0 lead over VSI Flames (FL) with 2 goals from Kate Del Fava - but a strong second half with the North Texas wind and some mental errors by the Wisconsin team saw VSI even the game. Goalkeeper Lilly Mueller made 2 strong saves to preserve the tie, though the team felt an opportunity for 3 points had slipped their grasp. The final game of the event was a great match-up against a very athletic and determined Atlanta Fire team currently sitting in third place in the ECNL Southeast Conference. FC WI Eclipse started strongly, with a great headed goal from Mary DeWalt off an Emma Langer serve. The teams traded punches for much of the second half before Molly Riebau clinched the game with an opportunistic finish off a parried goalkeeper save on a shot from Langer. Payton Wesley led a strong defensive effort against the dynamic Atlanta Fire forwards, with Jess Cooley and Mary Kate Simon storming forward out of the back to keep Atlanta Fire on the back foot defensively.
The U15 team battled gamely, but continued a somewhat snake-bitten 2013-14 season, losing star forward Lindsey Weiss to an ACL tear days before the event and then losing GK Jen Wandt in the first half of the first game to a head injury. The team competed well without a goalkeeper in the second half, but dropped a close 0-1 decision to Concorde Fire on day one. In their second match-up against VSI Flames, the U15s took the lead on a nice finish from Mikaela Hoard, but conceded a late equalizer. Despite hitting the post and creating several quality chances in the final 10 minutes off play from Cami Davre and Taylor Kerwin in center midfield, the team couldn't find the winner and settled for a 1-1 tie. Day 3 saw the return of Wandt, but a match-up against a very strong Texas Rush team proved too difficult - as a scoreless and even first half went to waste when the team conceded 3 goals in 4 minutes in the second half. The game finished with the same score, providing more insight on areas to improve over the coming months.
The U17 team continued their upward trend with 2 wins on the weekend in Texas. The first game saw a mediocre performance from the Wisconsin team but was still enough for a 3-0 win over Virginia Rush. Day 2 featured a great match against ECNL Northwest Conference club Utah Avalanche, and a 1-0 Wisconsin win on a long strike from midfielder Gaby Dorsey. The final match of the weekend was against ECNL perennial powerhouse CASL (NC). The game was scoreless for 70 minutes, with several opportunities for the U17s to take the lead thwarted by good CASL defending, before the North Carolina club found the first goal. The U17s gamely battled back, conceding one more in the process, and ultimately dropping an 0-2 decision. The result, however, did not dampen the weekend, as the two wins were enough to push the U17s to #8 in North American Cup qualifying - where they hope to hang on to a #1 seed in the ECNL post-season.
"The Texas event is always difficult for the club," said coach Billy Solberg. "Our players haven't been able to train outside since November, and stepping into bigger spaces and suddenly dealing with the outdoor elements is a tough transition. The results of the teams, and another winning record in ECNL National Events for the club, is a testament to the hard work they have put in training indoors and in the TIP program for the past 3 months."
"We are really excited with the progress of the club," said coach Andy Lee. "The U16s and U17s have again improved their record significantly compared to prior years, and both teams will be a threat to make some noise in the ECNL post-season. More importantly, the technical and tactical improvement of the teams from August is significant. We are now coaching much more advanced tactical concepts, and the players are capable of executing many more ideas than ever before. It is exciting to see."
The next ECNL event for FC Wisconsin Eclipse will be the ECNL Play-Offs in late June, in Seattle, WA. 32 teams will qualify for the ECNL Champions League, and 32 more will qualify for the ECNL North American Cup.