The first weekend of April found FC Wisconsin girls teams all over the Midwest but all playing the same style of soccer with the same ideas and intent to dominate possession of the ball. With teams of mixed players from Milwaukee and Madison, the weekend was great evidence of the common teaching and coaching style used across the club, with players able to seamlessly come together and play with the same understanding.
FC Wisconsin had two teams competing in Madison in the Reddan Spring Shoot-out - a U11/12 team and a U13 team. Both teams had a monopoly on the ball throughout the weekend, connecting long strings of passes together over and over as they searched for opportunities to penetrate and create chances. With only a few days of outdoor training this spring under their belts, you could see the players grow in comfort in the bigger spaces game-by-game, and the goal production went up accordingly. Both teams went 4-0 on the weekend to claim the tournament championship - but it was the style in which they played that stood out.
The U11/12 team knocked off DePere Select 3-0 in the final, after winning their group in style with a pair of 5-0 wins over Waunakee and Pewaukee Sussex. Isabel Plesac was consistently dangerous all weekend, with Ramsey Botsford also making a big impact linking players together. The U13s found their scoring touch on Sunday, in a pair of 5-0 wins over Hartford United and Mt. Horeb, after two 1-0 wins on Friday and Saturday didn't reflect their dominance of the ball. Tiana Johnson bagged a bunch of goals on the weekend, several set-up by Courtney Schmidt's ability to find and play a telling pass.
"The best part of the weekend for the U11/12 team was the third game, where we went down in the first minute of the game," said Marisa Kresge. "The players never changed their commitment to our style, we still looked to possess the ball and switch the point of attack, and ultimately came from behind to win because of this patience."
"The U13s had a lot of the ball, but struggled to create chances early in the event. By the end of the tournament, as they got more comfortable with getting bigger and bigger in possession and by doing so creating gaps in the opponent's shape, we were able to find multiple ways to score goals."
At the same time as the teams in Madison were tearing up Reddan Park, another FC Wisconsin U13 team was in St. Louis facing off against some of the best teams in Missouri. The team started fast, putting 8 past their first opponent with a series of slick combinations and through balls. The second match found them against fellow ECNL club SLSG-IL, and a tight 2-1 game that showed the players have come a long way in their ability to play out of pressure and solve problems in small spaces. The third match of the event was another ECNL preview, against SLSG-MO this time. Facing an athletic and determined opponent, the possession was even through the game, but it was in determination to win the box where the SLSG players claimed the points. An 0-3 loss did not show the quality of the play, but it did shine a spotlight on the need for more commitment to win airballs and space in the penalty boxes - where games are ultimately won and lost.
Liliah Blum, Mallory McGuire and Maddie Dorsey formed a nice central midfield trio, finding good pockets to link up in, and working hard to win loose balls. When they broke pressure they frequently found nice entry passes to Kylie Gress, who continues to be more and more dangerious in the box. Becca Cheever was a steady influence at centerback, looking to build the attack early and leading and directing the team from the back line. Lucia Englund provided an extra attacking option from outside back, and her sister Sophia showed good willingness to take players on 1v1 in the final third.
The first outdoor events for these players showed the huge improvements made over the winter months of training. All the teams confidently opened up into big spaces in possession, unafraid to play from the back and to solve pressure with skill and ideas in every area of the field. Their patience with the ball showed in a reluctance to cheaply concede possession for low probability chances - reflecting a maturing thought process.
"We got what we were hoping for form the weekend," said Andy Lee. "We showed that we could control possession and play against some good ECNL clubs, and played opponents that really challegned our style of play. At the same time, the players got a reminder of what the next level looks like and came away with lots to think about and work on."
The spring season will find the players making even more progress as they continue their journey in the game!