From December 28-30, the FC Wisconsin Eclipse U16 and U17 teams celebrated the holidays at the ECNL National Event in Sanford, FL – surrounded by sunshine, palm trees, the best players in the country, and almost every college and university in the United States.
Overall, the event showed the continued growth and improvement of both teams, and the progress of Wisconsin players at the nation’s highest competitive level, as the U16s finished undefeated with 2 wins and a tie, and the U17s went home 1-1-1.
The U16s opened ECNL Florida against the Winston-Salem based North Carolina Fusion with a comfortable 2-0 win. The opening goal came on a Steph Franzcak volley from 15 yards, from a cross from Lindsey Weiss that was redirected down by Mikaela Hoard. The halftime lead was much deserved for the team, as they dominated possession and limited NC Fusion to very few looks at goal. The second half continued in much the same way before Bianca Stubler bent a corner kick directly into the goal to provide the additional cushion. Taylor Tabbert added good attacking intent from right back throughout the game, while centerbacks Kristina Barczak and Katie Slater organized a very stingy defense the few times it was necessary.
The U17s faced Dallas club D’Feeters in their opening contest, earning a 0-0 draw that saw limited chances for either team throughout the 90 minutes. In a game that was played primarily in midfield, MacKenzie O’Connell battled well defensively to disrupt possession for the Texas team, while Adi Johnson constantly searched for opportunities to connect behind. With neither team creating a lot in attack, in part due to good defending on both sides, the result was fair for both teams.
The U16s faced their toughest test of the event on Monday in a match-with with Pennsylvania’s FC Bucks. The first half saw the east coast team dominating possession and chances, but unable to take the lead. Good defending from Maddie Hoitink early in the half, combined with a great save from goalkeeper Jen Wandt late in the half, was barely enough for the Wisconsin team to enter the break unscathed. The second half saw immediate improvement, as Weiss, Franczak, and Emma Roemer linked up in attack several times to create the first real chances of the game for FC Wisconsin Eclipse. A shot off the crossbar from Weiss in the 55th minute was a sign of real intent, but the game remained deadlocked. The break ultimately came in the 70th minute when poor defending from FC Bucks left Taylor Kerwin 1 vs. 1 against an isolated centerback. A nice dribble and tight cut led to a clinical slotted finish – and was just enough to give the Midwesterners 3 much needed points.
The U17s faced Washington DC based McLean SC on day two, a team that boasted both speed and technique all over the field. The quality of the East Coast outfit was immediately apparent, and when combined with a poor start by FC WI Eclipse dug a 0-2 hole in the opening 10 minutes. The score remained the same at halftime, but a halftime formation change to a 3-5-2 combined with some renewed determination to build a more patient attack significantly changed the momentum of the game. Kate Del Fava’s presence in midfield added much needed attacking intent, and the team generated multiple chances as momentum shifted. A Mary Kate Simon header from a corner was cleared off the line, Mara Pfeilstifter came agonizingly close to a back post tap-in on two occasions, and a 25 yard Adi Johnson shot was just tipped over the bar. While the U17s dominated the first 30 minutes of the second half, the McLean defense was resolute and the opener would not come. Jordyn Bloomer made a few quality saves late in the game as the teams fatigued in the heat and good McLean attacking play opened up the defense. The final would remain 0-2 as two exhausted teams were grateful for the final whistle.
After two days of grueling competition, day 3 at any ECNL National Event is a big challenge both physically and mentally. It is usually the most determined and disciplined teams that claim points on these days, providing a good litmus test of toughness for every club in the ECNL.
The U16s had an early 8 AM kick-off under grey skies and with some welcome light rain, facing the U16 team from McLean. The team showed early signs of life when a Stubler break-away was saved in the 10th minute, and when Hannah Compernolle finished another Stubler cross in the 20th minute to take a 1-0 lead it looked like the game may be determined early. The goal, however, was the high point of the game, and gradually increasing McLean pressure paid off in the 40th minute with a corner kick goal. The U16s inability to win air challenges was exposed again, and ultimately proved to be the difference between taking home 3 points or 1 point in a back and forth affair the rest of the game. Both teams had chances in the second half, but the game would fizzle out and remain a 1-1 draw that left many looking for better.
The U17s played Boston Breakers Academy for the first time in their ECNL careers in their final match-up in Florida. The group started brightly with good pressure defensively, and several attacks early. The work was rewarded in the 25th minute when Del Fava headed home a Cooley corner kick at the back post to claim the lead. The goal seemed to spark the Boston outfit though, as they raised their energy level and took the upper hand for the remainder of the first half, but were unable to put anything past goalkeeper Lilly Mueller. The second half saw a resurgent Wisconsin team create multiple chances, as Cooley was rampant at left back, and Simon matched her from right back with multiple surging runs forward. Mary DeWalt, Delaney Hughes and Emily Valentine were close to breaking behind a few times, and Del Fava and Payton Wesley were tantalizingly close to a second corner kick goal more than once. Marlee Lane came on late to help hold the ball up front and help secure the 3 points, and though Boston would have 1 good chance at the death to equalize the game, Hughes was on the post to clear a potentially tying corner-kick header off the line in the 93rd minute. After 94 minutes of hard work, the U17s claimed the well-earned victory.
ECNL National Events are not only the top competitive events in female youth soccer, they are also the biggest college recruiting events in the United States. Over 3 games in Florida, the U16 team was scouted by nearly 100 different universities – exposure that is unmatched anywhere in American youth soccer, and that clearly shows the perception of the quality of the teams and players in the ECNL.
With 3 wins, 2 ties, and 1 loss in Florida, FC Wisconsin Eclipse teams continued to represent the club and the Midwest Conference well at ECNL National Events. In their two events this season, the U16s are undefeated with 4 wins and 2 ties, and the U17s have only dropped 1 game – earning 2 wins, 3 ties, and 1 loss. Heading into the mid-year break, the U16s currently sit as a solid North American Cup qualifier, while the U17s still have some work to do to get into post-season Cup consideration.
“At each of the ECNL events, we again see the quality and depth of the players across the league,” said Andy Lee. “The physical, mental, and technical demands of ECNL games get higher every year, and our players must continue to work and improve to meet this ever-rising bar. We spent significant time discussing what this takes with each team throughout the weekend. You can already see the total dominance of ECNL alums that are now in college, (for ECNL College Impact stats click here), and the U16 and U17 ECNL teams are the next generation of that trend. This level of competition simply doesn’t exist anywhere else – and what is ‘good’ and acceptable in state level competition or other regional leagues simply doesn’t cut it here. It is sometimes tough for players to meet the everyday demands and pressures in this league – but that is what creates the future college star. Hopefully the discussions we had in Florida will help the players understand this growth process as they continue to work and improve.”
“The Florida event provides a nice bookmark for the season every year,” said Christian Lavers. “Not only is it nice to get into some warmer weather and play outside again, but these games provide another measuring stick right before the mid-year break.”
“The teams in Program 3 (the third year of the club) are light years ahead of where we were in 2012. It was great to have Hideki Nakada (former FC WI Eclipse coach and current assistant at Stanford University) see the teams on and off the field this weekend in multiple games, and to hear his thoughts on how much improved the culture and the players are in the past 3 years. That progress has taken a tremendous amount of work and commitment from players, staff, and parents – and the results are changing consistently and positively because of it. We know we still have a long way to go in order to line up and beat the top teams in the ECNL, and each of our teams has some different challenges and hurdles to overcome and address in the coming season, and in the coming years, in order to take that ‘next step’. Whether these challenges are physical, technical, psychological, or a combination, the gap continues to close. With continued work, growing determination, and the base that has been built in the first two-and-a-half years in this club, the progress will continue – and we are excited about that.”
The FC Wisconsin Eclipse ECNL teams take the entire month of January as a mid-year break for rest and recovery. The teams will begin training again in 4 weeks, and will head to their final regular season ECNL National Event of the year in Ft. Worth, Texas at the end of February.
Stay tuned for more updates on Wisconsin’s ASPIRING players, news on the achievements of the “Class of 2015” as they play their last club soccer games, and more on what is happening in the club in the coming weeks!