The FC Wisconsin U15-U18 ECNL teams traded the snow of Wisconsin for the heat of Arizona as they travelled to Phoenix November 8-10 to compete in the first ECNL National Showcase of the season. The ECNL National events are the biggest college showcase events in the country, and even with the college soccer season still being very much underway, there was no shortage of coaches and scouts on the sideline to watch Wisconsin’s most competitive girls’ players.
Despite the adverse weather in Wisconsin that severely interrupted preparation for the event, all four FC Wisconsin teams performed well and the club finished with an overall record of 6 wins, 4 losses, and 2 ties. In addition, U16 player Lilliah Blum was selected to compete in the first ever ECNL National Selection Game. This showpiece game played on Friday night featured 36 of the top players in the ECNL playing against each other in front of a packed crowd of over 1500 spectators and 100 college coaches.
The U15 team set the bar high in the event, with an undefeated weekend of 2 wins and a draw. Back to back 2-0 wins on the first two days against Pride SC (CO) and Utah Avalanche set the scene for an exciting final game on Sunday against a competitive team from Sting Soccer Club in Austin. FC WI trailed for most of the game before a great equalizing goal by Alyssa Thomas in the second half set up an exhilarating final 15 minutes. With fatigue really starting to show, FC WI finally conceded in the last minute of the game to go behind 2-1 and seemingly hand victory to Sting. However, the players dug in and looked to force one more chance to equalize and almost immediately from the kick-off Emme Dumbauld found herself in a position to serve the ball toward the box. The cross made its way to Eily Henderson, who with the final kick of the game, expertly volleyed the ball in the top corner of the net. It was an unbelievable goal to end an exciting game and strong event for the U15’s.
The U16s had a roller-coaster of a weekend, to finish with a record of 1-1-1. They started well with a hard-earned 1-1 tie against an athletic team from Del Mar, CA, while Day 2 saw their best performance of the weekend against Austin Sting who they defeated 2-0. Two incredible solo goals from Lilliah Blum more than justified her invite to the previous day’s National Selection Game. Dre Alberts and Lucia Englund performed well at center back, along with Caitlin Dominski in a new role at left back.
The final day for the U16’s saw them drop a 3-0 decission to the perennial powerhouse So Cal Blues. The performance was a good one though, with plenty of possession and good balance of play, and the only real difference in the ability to finish chances. Overall, it was a good event for the U16’s who have been hampered by injuries all season, but who battled throughout.
The U17s were another team on the hunt for points in Phoenix after a fall that has seen much improvement in performance, and some agonizingly close games go the wrong way. The event started with wins on the first two days against Oklahoma Celtic and FC Pride (IN), before the team fell to a good Classics Elite (TX) side on the final day.
A Rachel Janes header was enough for the win on Day 1, while day 2 saw a great performance to defeat FC Pride 2-0. Haley Johnson looked dangerous all weekend and scored in the 10th minute with a powerful shot from the edge of the area. Tori Bunz and Anna Franceschi are beginning to form a strong partnership on the right hand side, and after another good combination it was the latter who served a teasing cross that evaded the entire back line, allowing Maggie Holton to head home her first ECNL goal.
Phoenix is bitter-sweet for every U18 team, as it usually represents their final ECNL event. With that perspective, every team is looking to end their ECNL careers positively before moving on to college soccer, so the competition is always high. The FC WI U18s have had a frustrating fall that has too often lacked a cutting edge - resulting in too many dropped points from seemingly good positions and overwhelming possession in many games. The first two games followed a similar path with great soccer, possession dominance, but critical mistakes. Having played well against Charlotte Independence (NC) and TSC Hurricanes (OK), FC WI could not find the goals and were punished for crucial mistakes defensively, losing both games 1-3 and 0-3 respectively.
Day 3 finally brought about the win they deserved against Utah Avalanche by a score of 2-1. Goals from Caitlin Shilling, and a Utah own goal were enough to secure the win. Many of the graduating players have been with the club for many years and have competed in more than a dozen ECNL events together. All have made a lasting impact on the club and will leave as great role models for future FC Wisconsin players.
"ECNL National Events are a great experience for both our players and coaches. The performances across the club are consistently good, and are driving the club forward within the ECNL,” said coach Andy Lee. “This event saw a couple of teams fight through some real adversity in terms of injuries in our squads, as well as a memorable first event for the U15 team. We also saw a group of U18’s play their final event after several years of elevating the game in Wisconsin, and they went out showing great soccer and great sophistication.”
“The club as a whole has developed an identity and a style of play that is more evident now than it has ever been,” according to coach Joana Bromley. “They showed fight and drive to compete, as well as the ability to read the game and make tactical decisions to battle with some of the nation’s best teams.”
Attention now turns to the final conference games that will take place in Minnesota on December 7 & 8, followed by two more winter National Events. With a few more strong performances like these, talk of national play-offs qualification is a distinct possibility for more than one FC WI team.