The final ECNL National Event of the year took place in Sanford, FL from December 28-30, with hundreds of the country's best teams and far more colleges in attendance. The U16 and U17 FC Wisconsin Eclipse teams were part of the field, and continued their march toward the post-season ECNL play-offs.
The U17 team finished the event undefeated, with 2 wins and a tie, while the U16 team finished with a win and two very close losses. With only 3 national event games left in the ECNL season, both teams are poised to potentially qualify as a top seed in the ECNL North American League post-season play-offs.
Day One (12/28/13):
The U17s opened the weekend with a 3-1 win over Carolina Elite Soccer Academy. The team started the game furiously, with a neat combination of passes to put Mariah Downs behind the defense for a classy finish and the 1-0 lead only 3 minutes into the game. Downs scored her second of the game in the 60th minute with a well-placed chip of the goal-keeper on another breakaway, and Steph Fabry put the team up 3-0 minutes later with a rocket from 8 yards out. While Carolina pulled one back in the final minutes of the game, the outcome was never in doubt. Allison Jacobson finished with assists on all 3 goals in a dominant performance.
The U16s also began the event with a win, with 2 corner kick goals to beat Virginia Rush 2-0. Mary DeWalt scored the winner on a scrum when Virginia failed to clear the first ball, and Kate Del Fava put away the second mid-way through the second half. While the team had chances to put a more emphatic stamp on the scoreline, the game finished without any further fireworks.
Day Two (12/29/13):
The U17s started well again, with a flurry of great chances in the opening 20 minutes of the game against FC Dallas. Unfortunately, they were only able to put away one of the opportunities as Downs scored her third of the weekend - and the misses would haunt them later. The second half found a more feisty FC Dallas team claim the equalizer, and force goalkeeper Jordyn Bloomer into a few quality saves. The game finished as a 1-1 tie - a fair result overall but one that left a bad taste due to the early spurned chances.
The U16s were matched against Ohio Elite on day two, and began the game in a downpour that seemed entirely inappropriate for the "Sunshine State." The team went behind on a counter-attack in the 20th minute, but pulled one back on a series of passes that finished with a great individual run by Lindsey Weiss. Shortly before the half, Ohio Elite scored an unlikely equalizer, which stood up through the second half as the game finished 1-2.
Day Three (12/30/13):
Day three is the day that determines the final feel of the event, and the FC Wisconsin Eclipse teams did not disappoint. In one of their best performances of the year, the U17s were dominant in a 2-0 win over Santa Rosa United (CA), led by 2 more goals from Downs. The five-goal outburst set a new mark for the club for individual points in a weekend.
The U16s came out with far more fire in the final day, and had ample opportunity to put distance between themselves and Birmingham United (AL). Unfortunately the post and some difficulty with the finishing touch was punished, as the team fell behind 1-0 in the 30th minute. A bevy of chances were again spurned in the second half, as the team struggled to find a finish. In the final minutes, after pushing into a 3-4-3 formation, the team was caught on a well-executed counter-attack and dropped the game 0-2.
The club finished its second ECNL National Event of the 2013-2014 season with a 3-2-1 (W-L-T) record, the second consecutive event with an overall winning record. The results put both teams in the top 10 of the table for ECNL North American League post-season qualification, with 3 games to go in the ECNL regular season for each.
"This event showed again the progress of the individual players, the teams, and the club overall," said Christian Lavers. "The U17s in particular played some very good soccer throughout the event, and were dominant in both wins. While Downs was very good in the attacking third, the team had excellent play from the back four (Chloe Knudtson, Briana Jaeger, Katie Golabowski, and Kara Baugrud) throughout the entire event that set the foundation. They were very well organized, strong in their individual battles, and made very good decisions in possession to build our attacks. it was also probably the best set of games of the year for the midfield group, where Gabby Dorsey's tenacity set a great tone for the team."
"I hadn't seen the teams play in almost two months, which really gives me a unique perspective to see the changes" said Monica Cieslak. "Sometimes its hard to appreciate changes when you are there every day for the incremental, consistent improvements. Stepping away and then coming back - the players are so much improved. I am really proud to see the mentality, work rate, and toughness they showed - and the style of soccer continues to become more sophisticated and fun to watch."
Vito Parente echoed these thoughts. "2 years ago, the U17 team didn't win a single game in their national events, and last year the U15 team didn't win a national event game; now these teams have put together an overall winning record in 2 consecutive events. That improvement is remarkable - especially considering that everyone in the league is also constantly working to be better. Overall, it was a good weekend for both teams, especially the U16s. They have had a fantastic conference season, but the game always keeps you humble. The lessons they learned here in two tight losses should motivate them to continue their individual work, and be a reminder that results in the ECNL are never to be taken for granted. I am excited to see what our teams do in the next 6 months."
The month of January is the mid-season break for FC Wisconsin Eclipse, as the ECNL teams have 4 weeks off for rest, recovery, and rejuvenation. The teams will resume training in February, and will be attending their third and final regular season ECNL National Event when they travel to Ft. Worth, TX February 22-24.