From February 13-15th, the FC Wisconsin U15 and U16 ECNL teams traveled to Houston, TX for the 2016 ECNL National Event - TX, playing 3 games over 3 days in front of hundreds of college coaches from all over the country. ECNL National Events, the biggest college showcases in the country, bring together top teams from all over the country to compete against one another, experience playing against different styles of play from different regions of the country, and learn how to deal with the new competition.
Saturday, February 13:
The U16 team went 2-1-0 over the weekend, aided by a strong start and 1-0 win against U16 GSA from the ECNL Southeast Conference! It was a physical game from the kickoff through the final whistle, and the FC Wisconsin girls kept their focus and determination to win first and second balls all over the field. In the 10th minute the GSA defenders couldn’t handle Elyse Bennett’s pressure as she forced a defensive mistake and found herself behind the defense. After her first attempt on goal was saved, she was still able to finish with composure on an empty net from a tight angle. The team remained steady after the goal as Stephanie Franczak and Sierra Koch led the team from the backline, and kept the team organized and focused with their communication. There was similar energy in the second half from both teams, but the persistent defensive pressure from FC Wisconsin’s midfield made it difficult for GSA to find any rhythm. On the times GSA broke through, Lexi Bullis came up big in goal, tipping a shot over the goal and being light on her feet to push the ball wide several times. Another strong defensive performance came from Audrey Poorman, keeping her concentration while defending a tricky forward in several 1v1 situations. When the whistle blew, the match was a well-deserved victory for FC Wisconsin to start the weekend.
FC Wisconsin’s U15 team faced a tough opponent in their opener against Real Colorado. With the excitement of their first game in months, the players had a difficult time settling into possession in the first half and spent extended periods defending. They went into halftime down a goal but regrouped to come out for a much improved second half. They solved the problem of possession by finding simple passes to break pressure and keep possession in the midfield. Although the team did not create enough chances to win the game, it was a positive sign to see the improvement in the second half. Two counter-attack goals in the second half, one in the dying moments, meant the scoreline was not as positive as the improvement, but a valuable lesson was learned for the future.
Sunday, February 14:
After a generally positive first day, day two of the event was a bit more difficult for both teams. The 16’s were unable to keep their winning streak alive, facing CASL, a Mid-Atlantic Conference (Chesapeake Division) club. CASL came out ready to compete and played with great energy, and the Wisconsin girls paid the price with a very fair 0-3 defeat.
FC Wisconsin’s U15 team fell 0-2 to the D’feeters from the Texas Conference, but again struggled to consistently find a rhythm in possession. Once again the team played more smartly in the second half, especially when Emma Tabor was able to connect with the midfield and control possession. Although the D’Feeters found the net twice, goalkeeper Lauren Quast – playing up an age group and in her first ECNL event – came out strong to keep the ball out of the net late in the game. Sydney Schaff was also a positive standout with composure and concentration throughout the game in possession, and good technical defending against some speedy opponents.
Monday, February 15th
Day 3 started brightly, and both teams seemed to have found more comfort playing 11v11 after the past 3 months of training in Wisconsin gyms. The U16s started at top speed, ignoring any potential fatigue from the prior days, and took control of the match against Bethesda Soccer Club from Maryland, another club from the Mid-Atlantic Conference. Ali Menard pulled the strings in central midfield, completing good possession passes and also finding moments to clip balls in behind Bethesda’s backline to Elyse Bennett and Kayla Zimdars to create dangerous chances. Bennett went on to finish one of those chances to give the team a 1-0 lead in the 16th minute. Toward the end of the first half, the FC Wisconsin players were under a bit more pressure, but communication and organization throughout the backline and midfield helped the team stay united. In the last few minutes of the half, Emma Roemer earned a free kick after she was taken down dribbling just past midfield. Sierra Koch stepped up to take the kick and served a textbook driven ball right towards the back post. Well timed runs from Meghan Ludke and Bennett created confusion in the box, froze the goalkeeper, and Sierra’s strike found the back of the net. Her reaction as she walked off the field showed her pleasant surprise! Watch it here! The 2-0 scoreline held through the second half, as the team remained calm and moved the ball well to force Bethesda to chase them around the field. Emma Roemer came up big at the end of the game with a defensive header to clear the ball out of a dangerous area in the box to seal the shut-out.
The U15s were determined to end the weekend feeling as if they played up to their own standards, and after a shaky start they didn’t disappoint. The team faced an athletic and talented team in Lonestar SC from the Texas Conference. FC Wisconsin was under pressure early on in the game, but was able to withstand the pressure and eventually settle into the game. Solid defending, and rising confidence, opened the door for a well-executed FC Wisconsin counter-attack to take a 1-0 lead. Emma Jaskaniec gained possession in midfield and passed the ball wide to midfielder Peighton Steffen. Steffen found Aryssa Mahrt showing centrally for the ball up against Lonestar’s center backs. After Aryssa faced up and drew two defenders she slipped the ball to wide midfielder Maddie Tabor running to goal for a slick finish.
The build up and the goal gave the team a bit of confidence but they remained under some pressure from the Lonestar side. Just before the whistle blew for half time, Lonestar converted on a free kick and the teams went into half time even at 1-1. The second half of the game saw the Wisconsin players put together their best 40 minutes of the weekend. Emma Jaskaniec settled into defensive midfield and was able to find the ball and connect passes to give the team time to open up into a more attacking shape. The team overall showed more composure, significantly more possession, and spent a good deal of time in the attacking half and putting pressure on Lonestar to defend. The game ended 1-1, a fair result and reflective of the efforts from both teams.
“It is really hard to come south and play 11v11 against the best in the country in February after training in gyms for so long,” said coach Hayley Siegel. “I think you saw that in the play of both teams, but it was really nice to see the significant jump in quality on day 3. It should get everyone excited for the spring season.”
“Seeing the spark and spirit from the U16s on day 3, and the quality of combinations from the U15s on day 3, was definitely a high spot,” said coach Andy Lee. “Putting these qualities together is the key to consistent performances and I think we will see that this spring.”
FC Wisconsin goes back to training inside for the next few months, but has a busy spring schedule with 8 ECNL Midwest Conference games at all age groups!