The opportunity to play 2 of the top 5 clubs in the country in a span of 7 days, in meaningful games, provides the most real measuring stick possible in youth soccer. That measurement shows huge progress at FC Wisconsin Eclipse.
The FC Wisconsin Eclipse U14-U18 ECNL teams faced off twice against the Michigan Hawks, and once against sister-club Eclipse Select of Illinois in the past 9 days. The results showed a bright future for the young ages, and huge improvements in the past 3 years for the older ages - proof of the reasons for the founding of the club in 2012.
Against the Michigan Hawks, the U15 team was facing the 2014 ECNL National Champions - a team that brushed aside all comers in their first year in the ECNL, and has continued their dominant form in 2014-2015 with an undefeated record. In two great games, the FC WI Eclipse 15s lost 0-2 and 0-3, showing incredible progress since the U14 season and putting a scare into the Hawks when Sunday's game was 0-0 with 15 minutes remaining.
The task was no easier for the U17 team, facing the 2013 and 2014 ECNL National Champion Eclipse Select on Saturday. In a game full of excitement, great tackles, and big challenges in the air, the U17 team held their own - falling 0-1 on a 75th minute goal to one of the most accomplished youth soccer teams in the past 10 years.
Not to be outdone, the U18 team has shown that in their final year of ECNL competition, after 3 years of progressive building and growth, they can compete with anyone in the country. In two games against the Michigan Hawks, the U18s dropped the first game 1-2, and tied the second 1-1 - earning their first points ever against the perennial national championship contender. Facing Eclipse Select this past weekend, the 2014 ECNL National Finalists, the U18s were scoreless until the 45th minute and unfortunate not to have a lead, before dropping an 0-3 result to a dynamic attacking team.
The U14 team showed that the future may be bright with a hard-fought 2-1 win against Eclipse Select - but a tie would have been a fair result in a game that could have gone either way.
In all, in 13 games against the best teams in the country across 5 age groups, and facing 3 national champoins or finalists, FC Wisconsin Eclipse teams were tied or within one goal at halftime of every match - a sign of tremendous commitment, development, and growth as players and teams. "To be so competitive in every game, at every age group, says everything for our program," said coach Vito Parente. "This club was founded because the gap between Wisconsin's best players and clubs like the Hawks and Eclipse was massive 3 years ago, at almost every age group. To see so much of this gap shrink so quickly is a tremendous testament to the work and effort of the player, and especially of the leadership of the U18s across the whole program."
"The players should be proud of themselves and the progress they have made," said Christian Lavers. "The next step is finding ways to create more chances, and ultimately be more clinical in front of goal - and that is the hardest part. There is no easy game in the ECNL, and no one gifts you anything because of the importance of the games. When you can compete in games that help determine post-season qualification and seeding, you earn every result you get and you truly get to see where you stack up."
The U15-U18 teams continue their season this weekend at the first ECNL National Event of the year in Phoenix, AZ. THey will play 3 games over 3 days, against top teams across the country in one of the biggest showcases in the country.