By Jimmy LaRoue
WAUKEGAN, Ill.–When KCFC’s U-16s began the season, coach Huw Williams couldn’t have imagined his team reaching national semifinals.
But it did, and held the lead against a vaunted Slammers FC squad. However, after nearly extending their lead, Slammers rallied and advanced to the Under-16 ECNL National Championship game against Dallas Sting by virtue of a 2-1 win Friday in an entertaining match at Waukegan Sports Park.
Abigail Sieperda, who scored 16 goals in the regular season, gave KCFC the initial lead.
“They were all over us,” said Slammers FC coach Walid Khoury. “They should have gone up 2-0. We were fortunate to make a save off the line.”
After a switch in formations, Slammers broke through on two set pieces, tying the match and then picking up the match-winner from Sammy Solaru on an expert volley off a corner kick.
“[It was] two very good teams going at it,” Williams said. “If there’s many better teams than that, I haven’t seen them all year.”
Minutes after Solaru’s goal, the siren sounded as approaching weather forced teams to withdraw from the fields on three separate occasions before play finally resumed for good.
“We were hoping they ‘d come out kind of flat after that, but they didn’t,” Williams said. “They handled it well. I think we handled it well.”
KCFC will be left to rue missed opportunities, having potential goals hit the post and cleared off the line. Williams knew that the one-goal lead was not safe.
“The longer that stayed as it was, the more you knew they were going to come back,” Williams said. “They’re well-coached. There’s a lot of talent there, a bunch of national team players.”
Williams told his team after the match how proud he was of them. From showing it belonged in the conversation among the elite teams in the ECNL and in the country to reaching the national semifinals and having a legitimate chance at winning, Williams said this loss would fuel the team’s fire for next season.
“If you had told me a year ago that we’d be playing in this game, I would never have believed it,” Williams said. “But no coach can ask for more than those kids gave this week and all year.”
He said his group is about more than just its record on the field. That record included an undefeated, 17-0-0 regular season in the Midwest Conference, racking up 69 goals and giving up just seven, and a 12-4-2 record and a fourth place mark in Flight A.
But Slammers certainly wasn’t a slouch, finishing atop the SoCal Conference with a 11-2-5 record. It also finished as the top team in Flight A with a 13-3-2 mark and boasts several national team players, including 17-goal standout MacKenzie Cerda, and will be a handful for Dallas Sting, 10th in Flight A with a 7-4-5 record and atop the Texas Conference with a 11-2-3 regular season mark, in the final.
“Wins and losses will come and go, but your reputations and character will never go,” Williams said. “And it showed. They’ve created a great reputation for themselves, and a lot of it is with ability, a lot of it is with dedication and commitment and sacrifice, but it’s also about their character. Those are good kids out there. They battled. They aren’t supposed to compete with Slammers, but they did, and we came on the losing end, but it was a flip of the coin which one was the better team.”
While Slammers will move on to play in the final, losing gives KCFC a goal to reach.
“We’ve got a goal,” Williams said. “We’re one game short of where we want to get to, two wins short of where we want to get to. We’ve got a target now, and hopefully we can build on this–a good stepping stone.”