On Saturday, FC Wisconsin Eclipse ECNL home openers took place on a bright sunny September day, after several days of cold and rainy weather in Milwaukee - and the analogy fit perfectly. 5 FC Wisconsin Eclipse teams took the field, and collectively they showed that Program 3, the third year of the club, has a different look and feel
On Saturday, FC Wisconsin Eclipse's 2014 ECNL home openers took place on a bright sunny September day, after several days of cold and rainy weather in Milwaukee - and the analogy fit perfectly. 5 FC Wisconsin Eclipse teams took the field, and collectively they showed that Program 3, the third year of the club, has a different look and feel than the past: a feel of a unified club across age groups, a consistent toughness and work rate in every team, and a determination that has become cultural.
The U14s took the field first at 9 AM for their first ever ECNL game - but watching the confidence with which they played, you would never have guessed it. The team had extended periods of possession through-out the game, and moments of great individual skill, but couldn't translate them into consistent chances. That said, with possession as the best form of defense, they did not concede much at all, and the game finished 0-0. Overall, it was a very sharp debut for the young team.
"We spent the entire U13 year focused on individual skill development and decision-making about maintaining possession in tight spaces - and it really showed," said coach Andy Lee. "That developmental emphasis will continue at U14, and you can see why - our players were confident with the ball, played out of difficult situations without any panic, and made good choices throughout the game. It was really rewarding to see the progress they have made."
The U15s played in the second game of the day, and entered half-time in a scoreless match. SLSG's possession advantage paid dividends in the second half with 2 goals in the final 20 minutes to win the game. "The performance of the U15s was encouraging in so many different ways," said Director of Coaching Christian Lavers. "First, we added several new players to the team - and they took the big jump into the ECNL with confidence and showed that they can play at this level. Second, the returning players showed that they have made massive improvements in their skill, mentality, and toughness in their second year in the club. Overall, the difference between the group this year to last year is significant."
The U16 team had the result of the day, with a hard-fought 1-0 win against the 2014 North American Cup Finals qualifier, in a game that left a few players cramping and everyone exhausted by the time the final whistle blew. The game-winning goal in the 70th minute by Hannah Compernolle reflected both the mentality of the team on the day, and the intensity of the game on the field. After good midfield defending created a turn-over 40 yards from goal, Katie Wegmann played a nice cross on the ground into the box, Mikaela Hoard challenged on the near post and was able to nick it on, and Compernolle's hard far post run was well-rewarded with the back post finish. "The best part of this game wasn't the result, it was the way it was obtained," said coach Vito Parente. "Today, the U16s showed that they can face a team with great combativeness, and meet them head-on. The improvement in their defending determination and ball-winning in the air was massive."
The U17 and U18 games both had disappointing and identical 0-1 scores, but were very different competitions. The U17s gave up a 50-yard counter-attack goal in the first half, and were made to pay for it when they hit the post, had a ball cleared off the goal line, missed 2 golden chances inside the six yard box, and spurned more than 15 great corner kick serves. "Our team worked hard, and for 75 of the 90 minutes dominated the game and created more than enough chances to win the game," said coach Parente. "They deserved better from the game - but this is the ECNL, and nothing comes easily on any day. They need to execute in the final third better, but more importantly they need to find the determination and hunger that marked this team last year." The U18s were in a match-up of two 2014 North American Cup Finals qualifiers, in a game that resembled a wrestling match more than a soccer game - but again showed the physicality and quality of the ECNL. A first half goal was enough for SLSG to take the 3 points, though a tie would have been the fair result. "I was impressed with the work rate, organization and toughness of our team," said coach Joana Bielefeld. "If they can show the composure to slow the game down a little bit in possession, and then combine that with the determination they showed today, they will win those games. That said, I see why both of these teams played in the North American Cup Finals."
FC Wisconsin Eclipse returns to training on Monday afternoon, and is back at home on Sunday against another St. Louis opponent. SLSG-MO, sister club of SLSG-IL, comes to town in another compelling ECNL weekend.