From February 18-20, the FC Wisconsin U16 and U17 teams were in Houston, Texas for the ECNL Texas National Showcase Event. With more than 300 colleges in attendance, the event proved again why the ECNL is the top college showcasing platform in the country. On day 2 alone, 58 different colleges from every corner of the country watched the U16 match!
It is always difficult for northern teams to travel south in the heart of winter when they haven’t been outdoors for many weeks, but the overall quality and style of play of both Wisconsin teams didn’t show much of these problems through the event. On Friday competition startedt, the players arrived for a light pre-event session that ended with the always-popular “head-catch” game. The light-hearted spirit of the group was clearly evident!
The U16s opened up play against Florida club Tampa Bay United, and started quickly from the kick-off. Rachel Dallet was taken down in the box for a penalty in the 5th minute, and Emma Jaskaniec coolly converted to take the lead. The Wisconsin players then held the ball for more than 75% of the half, but struggled to turn their dominance of the ball into chances. The second half started promisingly, with even more dominant possession - and this time it was converted into a number of chances. Jaskaniec, Aryssa Mahrt, Rachel Dallet, and Abigail Santana all had opportunities to add to the lead, but were unable to capitalize on them. Unfortunately, in the 70th minute the Texas heat began to take its toll, and Tampa Bay United created the first of a series of counter-attack chances. TBU scored the equalizer on a punt that was very poorly dealt with, and then scored the winner in stoppage time on a counter from midfield. The final score of 1-2 was totally in opposition to the Wisconsin team's possession dominance, but it accurately reflected the lack of ability to translate this possession into chances.
The U17s first opponent was the powerhouse club Colorado Rush from Denver, CO. The Rush started on the front foot, earning multiple corner kicks in the opening 15 minutes but were unable to finish any of them. In perhaps the best chance of the match for either team, Hailey Farrington had a break-away in the 20th minute but missed the target. The U17s acquitted themselves well in the remainder of the first half, and went into the break 0-0 with a slight edge in possession – though most of it was in their defensive half. The second half saw the Colorado Rush up their tempo and press higher on the field. In the final 10 minutes they pinned the Wisconsin team deep, but some great defending and toughness was enough to preserve the 0-0 tie – a great result.
Determined to redeem themselves after the disappointment of day one, the U16s faced Texas Rush on Sunday. They started sharply, and pinned Texas Rush deep in their end early. Great build-up play from the back four (Nicole Norfolk, Emily Ehlert, Emma Tabor, and Peighton Steffen) consistently found Santana, Amara Thompkins, and Maddie Tabor in midfield, and the attacking trio of Mahrt, Dallet, and Jaskaniec were quick and dynamic. The team hit the crossbar twice in the opening 15 minutes, and the Rush goalkeeper made a breakaway save on Mahrt. The U16s created multiple additional opportunities which they couldn't quite finish, and all of these spurned chances would be costly later. Rush went down a man in the 35th minute when Jaskaniec was taken down and injured on another goal-scoring opportunity, changing the tenor of the game.
In the second half a more determined Texas Rush team bottled up the Wisconsin attack, though they were clearly conceding possession. The tactic worked when a counter-attack goal put the Texas Rush up 1-0 with their first shot on goal in the 55th minute. Despite multiple more chances to finish the game, the U16s were unable to find the back of the net and fell 0-1.
The U17s faced Southeast Conference club Atlanta Fire on day two, and it was more of the same story. Two significant mistakes in possession in the opening 20 minutes turned into two Atlanta goals from counter-attacks, and from that point Atlanta struggled to create another chance. Kayla Zimdars had an open header in the 25th minute from the six yard box but put it over the bar. Hailey Farrington had a golden chance in the 35th minute but missed the target. The second half was more of the same, with a great combination setting Sophia Toscano wide open at the penalty spot in the 60th minute, but a great save kept her shot from the net. Morgyn Michel was in almost an identical position 10 minutes later, but couldn’t hit the target. At the end of 90 minutes, with a substantial possession advantage and more chances than their opponents, the U17s found themselves on the losing end 0-2.
Day 3 of the event was cancelled due to torrential downpours, and unfortunately the event ended early.
“The reality of this weekend was that our teams significantly dominated possession in 3 of 4 games, and we came home with only a tie,” said Director Christian Lavers. “In many regards, the quality of our play was really, really positive. The teams opened up and were able to put long strings of passes together, and you could see huge improvement in the player’s ability to find options and outs – even from a few months ago. At U16, we lacked the instinct to finish and the quality to make the final play in order to translate our significant dominance into results. At U17, we created several top quality chances on day 2 – but technical breakdowns undermined our efforts in both defense and attack.”
“I was very encouraged with the ability of all of the goalkeepers to be a part of the game in possession,” said goalkeeper coach Monica Gonyo. “They all significantly reduced the number of turnovers from the last event and from the fall, and they were a key part of their team’s ability to build play from the back. This quality is so often over-looked, but it is one of, if not the most important, in being a top level goalkeeper.”
“The progress of both the U16s and U17s in their understanding of how to keep the ball was clearly on display this weekend,” said Andy Lee. “Watching them solve pressure and show more composure in tight spaces was great. These are great steps, but now we need to see the players do the work to be able to translate possession into a better ability to create and finish chances. That will take more individual training with the ball, and more courage in key moments. I am excited to see that happen.”