The nation’s highest level of youth soccer returned to Wisconsin for the first time since February on September 12 and 13, and FC Wisconsin ECNL teams made a positive start to the season, with 4 wins and 3 ties against Michigan Hawks Magic and Vardar Soccer Club. The teams followed it up with a solid weekend of games at the FC Pride Cup September 26-27.
Despite the obvious excitement to be back in action, the pleasantries were short-lived as the games against Hawks Magic and Vardar immediately lived up to the competitive level the ECNL is famous for. Over the 8 game weekend only 1 game was separated by more than a single goal, with late drama, penalties, and come-backs throughout.
The U15s put in a gutsy performance to top Hawks Magic 2-1, with Jenna Baumann scoring an injury time winner not long after a Hawks goal had cancelled out Grasyn Dunsirn’s opening goal. Fatigue hit hard on Sunday against Vardar, and despite dominating possession, FC WI found themselves 0-2 down late in the second half. Two more late goals, this time both from the impressive Megan Antczak, rescued a point that perhaps should have been 3.
The U16 team had a great first weekend, bringing in 6 points and a pair of shutouts to boot. Saturday against Hawks Magic was a back and forth game with both teams struggling to carve out clear chances. Fittingly the winner came as a result of defensive pressure, as Gracie Papson dispossessed the Hawks keeper and finished cooly for the winner. The offense kicked in on Day 2 with a 3-0 win over Vardar with goals coming again from Papson, and a brace from Emily McCarthy to mark her debut weekend in the ECNL.
The U17s also had an undefeated start to their ECNL season, with a back and forth 2-1 win over Hawks Magic with both goals coming from Lilliah Blum, the winner coming late via the penalty spot. The second game against Vardar felt like a marathon at times, with both teams pressing and cancelling each other out all over the field. A great individual goal from Blum gave FC WI the lead, after which at times they looked nervous to hold on to. The equalizer came for Vardar after a strong spell of pressure, and although FC WI almost grabbed a winner at the death, the tie was a fair result.
The U18s had a tie and a loss on the weekend, marking a good start in terms of performance, and both games could have gone either way. Letting a 2 goal lead slip in the first game will be a sore point, as goals from Hayley Johnson and Tori Bunz should have given enough of a cushion. On day 2 the U18s played very well for most of the game but unfortunately were not able to find the net against an organized and physical Vardar team, and fell to a 0-1 defeat. There were however, many positives to build on in terms of performance.
On the weekend of September 26-27, FC Wisconsin took 6 ECNL teams (U13-U18) to Indianapolis, to compete in the FC Pride Cup. Due to schedule changes impacting many ECNL clubs this fall, the event was highly competitive, with multiple ECNL clubs in attendance - a rarity for youth soccer tournaments.
The U13s and U14s got their first taste of competition for the fall, playing an incredibly tough schedule of games collectively against SLSG ECNL, FC Pride ECNL, Indiana Fire ECNL, and Ohio Elite ECNL. Both age groups struggled to pick up results, but saw moments as well as sustained spells of quality, while also learning significant lessons on what it takes to compete with the nation’s best clubs and players. Lessons are best learnt while young, and the future remains bright for both of these teams.
The U15 through U18 had a strong weekend in Indiana, with the U15 team facing the toughest schedule, while also dealing with several injuries in the squad. U16 and U17 went a combined 5-1 over the weekend, scoring multiple goals along the way in a positive weekend for both teams. The only defeat came to the U16s against to a tough SLSG ECNL side, but there were plenty of highlights in the performance. The U18s had a similar weekend, with wo good wins and great goals to match on day 1, followed by a narrow defeat to Ohio Premier to round out the weekend.
The competition never stops in the ECNL, and all these teams are back on the road and in action again in the coming weeks. The U13 and U14 teams head to Fort Wayne this weekend to face two tough games against Michigan Hawks, while the U15-U18 teams have a week off before traveling to Portage, IN, to face Kansas City Athletics and Gretna Elite Academy (NE).