The FC Wisconsin U16 and U17 teams spent the final days of 2016 in sunny Sanford, Florida at the ECNL National Event where they matched up against top teams from across the country. On immaculate fields, in a fantastic environment, the players were able to show their talents to hundreds of coaches from nearly every university in the US.
The U16s finished the event with a 1-1-1 record, with each game getting significantly better as they adjusted to playing outdoors again each day. The team opened against FC Bucks from Pennsylvania, and were brutally punished for a poor start in the Florida sun. Down 0-3 in the first 15 minutes, primarily due to poor overall defending against a talented center forward, the team dug a very big hole early. A second half resurgence of three goals saw the players close the gap to 3-4, before a late counter by the Philadelphia-area players secured the three points. Rachel Dallet and Emma Jaskaniec scored the goals for FC Wisconsin, but it was a bitter pill for everyone to have started so poorly in such a big event.
Day two of the event found the U16s against FSA from Connecticut, in a game they dominated from start to finish. Two balls off the post and another golden opportunity missed from inside the six-yard box were all great chances spurned by the Wisconsin-ites in the first 15 minutes. Despite maintaining possession for nearly 80% of the half, the team was punished on a very poor give-away in the final minutes of the opening stanza to find themselves down 0-1 going into the break. The second half was even more dominant from the FC Wisconsin players, but they could not find a way to the back of the net. Some good FSA goalkeeping and some uncharacteristic misses made it seem like the day was not to be, but a 75th minute goal from Dallet at least snatched a point. Despite a few more chances in the final minute, the game ended 1-1, leaving the team disappointed again.
The final day of ECNL Sanford brought a match-up against New York powerhouse Albertson Fury. It seemed as though all of the pent up frustration from the previous days of the event was released in the final game, as Aryssa Mahrt scored in the first 3 minutes on a great individual effort, she scored again in the 10th minute on a strike from distance, and Jaskaniec scored the third in the 20th minute. Mahrt secured her hat-trick early in the second half, and Dallet sealed the game with the 5th goal in the 65th minute. A 5-1 effort was certainly dominant, but the quality of play from back to front was the real story of the game. With defenders Nicole Norfolk and Josie Ascione building calmly from the back, and midfielders Amara Thompkins, Emma Jaskaniec, Emma Tabor, and Abi Santana connecting quickly in midfield to break pressure, the Wisconsin players were on the front foot the entire game. Gina Muzi's calm distribution from goalkeeper settled the team from early in the game, and made the Albertson defensive press largely ineffective. With over 50 different colleges in attendance at the team's three games, many players have begun to make names for themselves.
The U17s went 0-3 in Florida, facing GSA from Atlanta, Bethesda SC from Maryland, and FC Boston. Despite the results, the team dominated possession in every game except the Bethesda match, but self-inflicted goals in every game from poor technical execution in possession made it impossible to earn a result. The progress of the team in style of play and decision-making this year has been significant, but all players now recognize the need for technical growth to match the tactical ideas.
"Our style of play in every game in Florida was very good," said coach Andy Lee. "You can see consistency from age group to age group, and from game to game, in the determination to open into big spaces, keep the ball, and build through the thirds progressively. That is huge progress, and it means that every player has a chance to show themselves. The technical level is now the biggest hurdle to overcome in order to translate the possession and decision-making into fruitful results - and hopefully that will come as they embrace that challenge."
"We felt the club had reached a point this year where we could make the decision as a staff to focus on creating a clear identity and style of play based around possession and decision-making," said Director of Coaching Christian Lavers. "The progress of the teams and players in this has been tremendous - we are playing better soccer, with more sophisticated ideas, than ever before. Our determination to build and keep the ball has certainly cost us some results, because it takes time to learn and execute, but all of our players will be in a far better spot for their future because of it. It is exciting to see, and we are all excited to continue to develop our identity in this way."