From June 26-29, the top youth female club teams in the country were in Seattle, WA competing in the ECNL 2014 Play-Offs. Their places in the event were booked over 9 months of grueling competition throughout the country - with the best teams from this journey grouped and seeded against each other for 3 round-robin play-off matches. At the end of the group matches, the group winner would move on to the ECNL Finals and the remaining teams would end their season. Three teams from FC Wisconsin Eclipse (U15, U16, and U17) were competing in the ECNL North American Cup, and the U17s topped their play-off group to become the first youth team from the club to advance into the ECNL Finals.
The U17s began the Play-Offs at a torrid pace - racing to a 4-0 lead against Orlando City (FL) in the first half. The first two goals came from corner-kicks, with Steph Fabry finding the first when she met a poorly cleared corner with an accurate header, and Briana Jaeger attacking a corner a few minutes later. Allison Jacobson and Mariah Downs found the third and fourth goals to stake the team to a lead they would not relinquish. Day one also saw the U16s claim a 1-0 win over Ohio Elite to revenge an earlier regular season loss. Though creating numerous chances with nothing to show for them, the team finally claimed the victory on a late goal set-up with a nice series of passes from McKenzie O'Connell to Emily Valentine to Emma Langer to Mary DeWalt to tap home. The U15s, with an injury-shortened roster, battled gamely against VSI Flames (FL) only to fall in the last minute 2-1. The goal came from Katie Slater, and a series of close chances set up by Taylor Tabbert, Bianca Stubler and Michaela Hoard were unmet in a closely contested match.
On day two of the event, the U17s faced Continental FC (formerly FC Delco) in a game that could determine the group winner, depending on results in the other group game. Again the U17s started quickly and went ahead 2-0 on a 25 yard blast from Gaby Dorsey and a smooth Mariah Downs finish. Continental battled back to tie the game 2-2 at halftime, and all was in doubt entering the second half. The U17s, however, showed no doubts in the second half, with Fabry finishing a deflected shot from Christina Feller, and Allison Jacobson putting the game out of reach in the final ten minutes. When the other game in the group finished tied, the dominant second half performance secured the group championship, and the ECNL North American Cup Finals berth for FC Wisconsin Eclipse.
The U16s fell behind early 0-1 to SoccerPlus FC (CT) on day two, but put incredible pressure on their opponents throughout the entire second half. Adi Johnson scored the equalizer - but when 10 corner kicks and multiple other chances were scorned the team was forced to settle for a 1-1 tie. The U15s, with another good performance in possession fell 1-2 to Irvine Strikers FC (CA), with a penalty finished by Hoard, great defending from Kristina Barczak, several big saves from goalkeeper Jen Wandt, and a few big chances late to tie.
Day 3 of the event was a rest day, with time for legs and lungs to recover - and for players to see the sights of downtown Seattle.
June 29 was the final day of competition, and each game meant something different for each FC Wisconsin Eclipse team. At U17, the team was already gauranteed top of their group, and qualification to the ECNL Finals. At U16, the team needed 1 more win to win the group and advance, and at U15 the team was eliminated from advancement but had one more game to play to finish the year. The U17s fell to Solar FC (TX) 0-1 to start the day - with moments of good soccer but a slower pace and urgency to their play. The U16s, facing California club San Juan FC were scoreless until the 32nd minute - when 2 quick San Juan goals turned the tide just before halftime. In the second half, the team dominated possession and chances but was unable to find the back of the net - falling eventually 0-2 to the group winners. It was a similar scoreline for the U15s, falling to group champion Internationals FC (OH).
The second year of the club was a year of firsts - the first team to finish above .500 in the ECNL regular season, "first time" victories over Midwest club powers in conference play, and after Seattle - the first team to advance in the ECNL post-season. These accomplishments are even more impressive when considering where the teams have come from, and the young history of the club. Look for more information in the coming days about the journey of the U17s, who will compete in Richmond, VA for the ECNL North American Cup Championship in only 10 days.