After 3 consecutive over-time games at the 2015 ECNL Play-Offs, the FC WI Eclipse U16s fell in penalties in the ECNL North American Cup Championship game.
After 3 consecutive over-time games at the ECNL Play-Offs, the FC WI Eclipse U16s fell in penalties in the 2015 ECNL North American Cup Championship game. The game was the 4th and final play-off game of the 16-team knock-out competition. The ECNL Play-Offs is the best youth female soccer competition in the world - with the top youth teams in the country competing for championships while playing in front of scouts from almost every college in the country as well as the US Youth National Teams.
The ECNL post-season is divided into three competitions: (i) the ECNL Champions League - for the top 32 teams in the country; (ii) the ECNL North American Cup - for the next 16 teams in the country; and (iii) the ECNL Showcase Cup. In total, 64 teams qualify at each age group from U15 to U17 for the ECNL Post-Season through the most demanding and grueling youth competition in the country. The North American Cup is a seeded knock-out single-elimination competition, with 4 games played over 5 days.
The U16s qualified for the North American Cup as the 11th seed, facing 5th seeded and Mid-Atlantic Conference power Ohio Elite in their first round match-up. After a great headed goal from Elyse Bennett in the 25th minute, the team held on for a tight 1-0 win in the surprising 90 degree Seattle heat. The quarterfinals of the competition saw the team face Southwest Conference club Arsenal FC in what was perhaps the most dramatic game of the event. Arsenal came out on fire, pinning the U16s deep in their end, and the SoCal club was unlucky to only be up 1-0 after the first 20 minutes because of some heroics from goalkeeper Jen Wandt. However, once they found their legs the U16s then made it quite a match-up, coming from behind multiple times before the game finished 3-3 in regulation. Hannah Compernolle, Elyse Bennett, and Lindsey Weiss scored in regulation before Bennett's second goal of the game in overtime was enough for the team to hang on for a huge upset over the number 3 seeded team in the competition.
Day 3 in Seattle was an off-day, built into the schedule to allow recovery for the players, and to help reduce injury risk. The team spent the day exploring the Emerald City - visiting the Public Market, spending time at the waterfront and the Space Needle, taking photos at the famous "gum wall," and more.
On June 29th in the semi-finals, the U16s were up against Solar SC from the Texas Conference. As Texas Conference Champions in 2013 and 2014, Solar would be an exceptionally difficult match-up for the U16s, especially after the energy they spent in the dramatics in the quarterfinal. After another slow start, the U16s staked a 2-0 second-half lead in the 55th minute. After pouncing on an unusual defensive miscue to take one goal back in the 60th minute, Solar equalized in the 70th minute to make the game 2-2 and send the U16s to another overtime battle in the unprecedented heat.
The U16s showed their tenacity and fitness in their second consecutive overtime game, creating multiple chances before a fantastic individual effort from Weiss found the back of the net in the second overtime period. WIth some smart hold-up play to kill the game in the final minutes, the match finished 3-2 and the team was into the final!
Reflecting the depth and strength of the Midwest Conference, the North American Cup Championship was an all-Midwest Conference affair against Minnesota Thunder. The teams knew each other well, playing twice in February in conference match-ups - the first game a 1-1 tie and the second a 1-2 loss for FC Wisconsin Eclipse in a heated and controversial match. The rematch in the final was fitting, and the stage was set for a great game.
Both teams showed some nerves in the first half, with few chances created on either side. The second half, however, saw the MInnesota outfit come out with guns blazing - taking a 1-0 lead in the 55th minute and unlucky not to find the net more. Again Wandt was a rock in goal, turning away several quality chances to keep her team in the game. Around the 60th minute, with some increased toughness in midfield, the U16s equalized on a Weiss break-away after Bennet won a key headball in midfield. At the end of regulation, the score was still notted at 1, and the U16s entered their third consecutive overtime match-up.
After being dominated in the second half by Minnesota, the overtime periods were a different story as FC Wisconsin Eclipse created the majority of the chances. Only a great save by the Minnesota goalkeeper on a last-second shot by Bianca Stubler kept the match even. At the end of 100 minutes of soccer, penalties were the only way to decide the champion, and Minnesota prevailed 3-2 in the shoot-out to claim their first North American Championship.
The U16s finished the 2014-15 ECNL season as the North American Cup Finalists - the best post-season finish ever for a team in the club. The result was a huge turn-around from the previous season for the team, and sets expectations high for the 2015-16 season.
"The night before competition began, we met with the players and discussed the potential of the team, but also their inconsistency," said coach Andy Lee. "The string of performances they put together in these games showed what they can accomplish with consistent focus, determination, and work - and makes me excited for the future."
"Playing 3 consecutive overtime games in 90 degree heat is incredibly difficult - especially when the second and third are against opponents who didn't have to play those extra minutes," said coach Christian Lavers. "The fact that the team prevailed in two of these games, and had the better chances in the overtime periods of all 3 of them, shows the quality of work that was done in training the months prior. The players know that they have some areas that must get significantly better in the coming months, but these performances should hopefully give them a glimpse of what is possible if they continue to improve."
The U17 team was also in Seattle, playing in the ECNL Showcase Cup. After a penalty shoot-out win in game 1 against North Carolina Fusion, the team dropped a 1-2 last-minute loss to Mustang from Northern California in game 2. The team finished the event on a high note with a convincing 3-0 win against Pleasanton Rage from Northern California.
FC Wisconsin Eclipse teams are now off for the month of July - a rest period to allow the players to recover from the rigors of the long season. The fall season will begin on August 2nd, when "Program 4" of the club begins, and the players look to take another step forward in the performance of the club in the world's best youth female league.