From November 13-15, the FC Wisconsin U15-U18 ECNL teams were in Phoenix, AZ for the first ECNL National Event of the season. Held at Reach 11 Soccer Park, one of the most pristine soccer complexes in the country, the teams faced tough ECNL competition from across the country. By the end of the afternoon on Sunday, the teams finished with the best performance in club history at an ECNL Event, and the quality of the play was similarly high.
Friday, November 13:
The first day of an ECNL Event is always difficult. Early morning alarm clocks, long plane rides, and general excitement takes a lot out of the players before they have even arrived. The FC WI teams arrived in Phoenix on Thursday afternoon for a light training session, team meetings in preparation for the games, and to acclimatize to the environment. On Friday morning, with players now refreshed and ready, the action began!
The U15s began ECNL PHX with a dominating 2-0 win over Sereno SC from Phoenix. Sereno is a member of the ECNL's powerhouse Southwest Conference, and as a home-town club for the event, was ready to play. Aryssa Mahrt put FC WI ahead in the 20th minute with a great individual effort - dribbling 3 players and 30 yards for a sliding finish. The lead was fair, and the Wisconsin players continued to raise the pressure for the next 60 minutes. The extra effort was rewarded in the 70th minute when Maddie Tabor volleyed home on the back-post after Emma Jascaniec kept a ball alive in the box. The two goal cushion was more than enough for the team to claim their first points in their first ever ECNL National Event. Sydney Schaaf was one of many bright spots for the team, locking down the left side of defense and frequently getting forward to create quality possession in the attacking third.
The U16s also faced Sereno, but finished with the opposite scoreline of the U15s. The game was tied at the half, with neither team able to create much of danger. Sereno broke the deadlock in the 65th minute after winning a key headball at midfield put them in a numbers up counter-attack, and then doubled the lead 10 minutes later. The game finished 0-2, leaving a bad taste with the Wisconsin players who felt a point had slipped away.
The U17s were matched with Texas club Challenge SC from Houston. With an abundance of pace and power in their attack, the Houston club started the game on the front-foot, but FC WI quickly settled in by the 10th minute. A 25th minute goal with the wind was the only difference at the half, and FC Wisconsin began to assert themselves in the second half. Despite a shot against the post from Bianca Stubler and several more good chances to equalize, the visitors were unable to break the seal and fell 0-1. Kristina Barczak and Katie Slater led a strong defensive performance, and the long awaited return of Maddie Hoitink from injury was a bright spot.
The U18s saw California club Eagles SC on day one – just in time for the heat of the Phoenix desert to arrive. In a bit of déjà vu the Wisconsin outfit created several breakaways and other good chances in the first 20 minutes but came away empty-handed. While dominating possession and chances for 90 minutes the team was forced to accept a 0-0 tie to end the day. Delaney Hughes was a consistent threat going forward, and was tenacious in defense to lead the midfield.
Saturday, November 14:
The U15s faced their second opponent from Arizona on day two – SC Del Sol. Del Sol were physically dominant in a high press 4-3-3 system, and used it to claim a 1-0 lead mid-way through the second half. A resurgence from the Wisconsin players saw them tie up the game on an Emma Jaskaniec dribble and shot from 20 yards, and nearly take all 3 points late with a few more chances. The tie was a fair result, and 4 points after 2 games was a good position for the young team.
The U16s played Pleasanton Rage from northern California on day two. An Ali Menard free kick in the 30th minute gave the team a 1-0 lead that they would not relinquish. Kayla Zimdars doubled the lead in the 60th minute on a nice one-touch finish from the edge of the box. Though Pleasanton scored late to narrow the gap, the U16s were solid to finish the game and claim all 3 points. Audrey Poorman was a consistent thorn in the Pleasanton side, storming out of the back throughout the game, Steph Fronczak and Sierra Koch led a strong defense, and Hailey Malloy announced her presence with a great game from right back.
In perhaps their most dominant game of the season, the U17s dealt Richmond United from the Mid-Atlantic Conference a 3-1 loss in their second game. Libby Snyder opened the scoring for the Wisconsin side, Michela Hoard doubled the advantage, and the icing on the cake was the final goal from Hannah Compernolle after a fantastic build-up with Taylor Kerwin and Taylor Tabbert coming out of the back. Hanna Lech and Hoard showed the fruits of weeks of work on communication and understanding, with frequent nice combinations to break pressure. Goalkeeper Jen Wandt was great in possession to help the team build from the back wiht consistency.
The U18 scoring attack awoke with a blast when they thumped Albion Hurricanes from Texas 5-0. Ana Portz opened her account with a breakaway finish before half, and the teams went into the break 1-0 in a tight match. The second half was an FC Wisconsin firestorm, with a free-kick goal from Jess Cooley (her second of the season), a goal from San Fonk (her first of the season), and a brace from Dani Rhodes to blow open the game.
Sunday, November 15:
The final day of any ECNL National Event is grueling physically and mentally. With tired legs and tired minds, players must find a way to solve problems and remain mentally focused. The FC Wisconsin players were up to the task – claiming 3 wins in 4 games on day 3.
The U15s knocked off Pleasanton 1-0 on a second half finish from Maddie Fahey. A great near post run from Aryssa Mahrt prevented the goalkeeper from making a clean play on a servce, and Fahey’s determination to get to the back post was well rewarded. The team had several golden chances to increase their lead, but thankfully none were necessary to take the points. Rachel Dallet snapped and snarled all game in midfield to disrupt the Pleasanton attack, Nicole Norfolk and Maria Nordness were great in defense, and Emma Tabor contributed on both ends of the field from right back to make the 3 points more than fair.
The U16s scored in the final minutes on a corner kick scrum to beat FC Portland 1-0 and finish the event with 6 points. The event was another very positive step in the right direction for the team - continuing their consistent drumbeat of improvement month after month and season after season.
The U17s faced the most difficult opponent of any team in the club all weekend on day 3 in the Colorado Rush. The Colorado side was stacked with talent, including 3 players currently in the US Youth National Teams, and a few more that had been in the past. The team battled fiercely and went into the break down 1-0 before a Colorado blitz resulted in 2 more goals in 5 minutes in the second half. The game finished 0-4, perhaps a bit unfairly, but Colorado were clearly the better side. The game was a nice picture of the next level, and a challenge to the Wisconsin players to get there in the coming year.
The U18s defeated northern California club Mustang SC 2-0 to finish their final ECNL National Event undefeated. A Dani Rhodes goal opened the scoring and a Kate Del Fava volley off a corner kick sealed the game. Payton Wesley marshalled a defense that, along with goalkeeper Jordyn Bloomer, did not concede a goal all weekend, and against Mustang dealt with 3 different formations without missing a beat.
Overall, FC Wisconsin finished ECNL PHX with 23 points and a 7-3-2 record. It was the most points ever for the club in an ECNL National Event, and was matched by some fantastic moments of quality soccer.
The teams now enter the winter break to continue their work and weekly improvement. The next ECNL matches for the club will be when the U16s and U17s travel to Sanford, FL for ECNL FL December 28-30.