An exciting Elite Clubs National League regular season has come to a close and now teams are converging in the Chicago suburbs for the 2012 ECNL National Championship event, taking place June 24-30 at the Waukegan Sports Park.
A weeklong event, the National Finals bring together the nation’s top teams in the Under-14, U-15, U-15, U-16, U-17 and U-18 age groups to crown the ECNL national champions, determine teams’ final positions in the standings and give players unparalleled exposure to hundreds of college coaches from across the nation. All matches are being played at the Waukegan Sports Park.
“The Road to Waukegan” began with the outset of the ECNL regular season in September, and crisscrossed the United States for five ECNL Showcase Events, which are a central part of the league’s mission to enhance the developmental experience of female youth soccer players in the United States.
While every ECNL club will be playing in Waukegan, the top 16 Under-15 through U-17 teams in Flight A, as well as the top 16 U-14 and U-18 teams, and the top eight teams in U-15 through U-17 Flight B, will be competing for a national championship.
But even for the teams outside the top of their respective flights, there will still be plenty to play for, as hundreds of college scouts are expected to turn out to scout the nation’s most talented girls’ soccer players. ECNL typically welcomes upwards of 300 college recruiters at each event, and scouts from U.S. Soccer are also in attendance, to identify and evaluate players for possible inclusion in United States Youth National Teams.
Check back to this page all week for The Soccer Wire’s on-site coverage of this massive event! Our own Jimmy LaRoue is in Illinois all week to provide updates, profiles and other timely information, and will be joined by Charles Boehm on Tuesday.
Thursday, July 5 – It may be over now, but we wanted to make sure you didn’t miss any of The Soccer Wire’s coverage of the ECNL 2012 National Finals, held in Waukegan, Illinois from June 24-30, 2012, featuring the top elite girls’ soccer action in the U.S. Plus, we also wanted to remind you to tune into GolTV tonight at 8 p.m. EST for the premiere broadcast of last Saturday’s ECNL Under-17 championship between CASL Chelsea Ladies and Michigan Hawks.
And just to refresh your memories of everything that happened, check out the links below to stories about each of the championship finals, and coverage from throughout the week:
• ECNL U-14 Championship: Ignoring coach’s advice, just this once, pays dividends for Arsenal in winning championship (By Jimmy LaRoue)
• ECNL U-15 Championship: Colorado Rush captures first-ever national title for club with shutout of Dallas Sting (By Jimmy LaRoue)
• ECNL U-15 Challenge B Championship: Washington Premier outlasts Minnesota Thunder Academy to take National Flight B title (By Jimmy LaRoue)
• ECNL U-16 Championship: Gutsy comeback powers Slammers FC to ECNL U-16 national championship (By Charles Boehm)
• ECNL U-16 Challenge B Championship: Real So Cal comes away with championship (By Jimmy LaRoue)
• ECNL U-17 Championship: CASL Chelsea Ladies win second consecutive national title (By Jimmy LaRoue)
• ECNL U-17 Challenge B Championship: Morgan Reuther brace leads McLean to ECNL U-17 Challenge B championship (By Jimmy LaRoue)
• ECNL U-18 Championship: Michigan Hawks get hat trick from Mallory Weber in championship win over Slammers (By Jimmy LaRoue)
In addition, here are the links to seven days’ worth of photo galleries from our own Jimmy LaRoue:
So while you’re taking a few days off around the July 4 holiday, be sure to have a look and savor the top-notch play from throughout the championship event.
Saturday, 5:30 p.m. EDT — A host of tense ECNL National Finals matches have played out over the course of another hot day in suburban Chicago, with champions being crowned in several brackets. The day began with an extraordinarily gripping Under-16 Flight A Final between Dallas Sting and Southern California powerhouse Slammers FC. Here’s our match report:
We’ll have lots more in-depth coverage of today’s action posted soon – stay tuned!
Saturday, 10 a.m. EDT – It’s championship morning! A full slate of national championship finals awaits at Waukegan SportsPark, not to mention a packed slate of consolation and challenge matches.
The final step in the year-long hunt for ECNL trophies gets started with the Under-16 Flight A final at 10 a.m. CDT, followed by the U-17 Flight A final at 11 a.m. CDT, then the U-18 Flight A final at 1:30. A bit later, the U-16 Flight B final is at 4:15 p.m. and the U-17 Flight B final is at 6 p.m.
Here’s our look at the dramatic action yesterday that decided who would contest the U-18 Flight A championship — two 1-0 matches were full of intrigue and somehow were completed despite multiple breaks in the action due to lightning delays.
Enjoy the day — we hope every team in action today leaves it all out on the field. If you can’t be here in Waukegan, follow the action in real time on twitter: @theECNL.
Saturday, 1 a.m. EDT – Check out Jimmy LaRoue’s story on the entertaining Under-16 semifinal match between KCFC and Slammers FC. After 16-goal scorer Abigail Sieperda opened the scoring, Slammers rallied for two goals to pull out the 2-1 win Friday. Slammers will face Dallas Sting in the final at 10 a.m. on Field 8.
Here’s a quote about Sieperda from her coach, Huw Williams, that didn’t make the story, but thought it was good enough to share:
“She’s one of those who’s come the longest way with this team,” Williams said. “Still, the nice bit about it is that she’s a long way from reaching her ceiling too. She strikes the ball well, very smart in the runs that she makes, deceivingly strong too. She’s a good player.”
While the weather delays made it hard for teams to focus, Williams said it was the same for all the teams, and while hoping Slammers might lose its focus in such a delay, what he got was their continued focus with just a one-goal lead as KCFC tried to rally.
Here’s a story from Jimmy LaRoue on CASL Chelsea’s Ladies’ dominance in a 5-0 win over Dallas Sting:
Scroll down for more updates, and be sure to follow along here on the blog, and for immediate updates @theECNL.
Friday, 11:30 p.m. EDT – All of the finals are set after an exciting day of semifinal play in the Under-16, U-17 and U-18 age groups. Both Slammers FC and Michigan Hawks have two teams, each, in the final.
Here’s the time and location of each of the finals:
10 a.m. CDT – U-16 Flight A Final: Slammers FC vs. Dallas Sting (Field 8)
11 a.m. CDT – U-17 Flight A Final: CASL Chelsea Ladies vs. Michigan Hawks (Field 2)
1:30 p.m. CDT – U-18 Final: Michigan Hawks vs. Slammers FC (Field 2)
4:15 p.m. CDT – U-16 Flight B Final: Real So Cal vs. Heat FC (Field 4)
6 p.m. CDT – U-17 Flight B Final: McLean Youth Soccer vs. Minnesota Thunder Academy (Field 9)
There are more games throughout the day as teams play for final placements and showcase their talents in front of the hundreds of college coaches that have turned out all week. Be sure to click on the links here for the complete schedule of games on the final day of the 2012 ECNL National Championships.
Here are stories about the teams that have already been crowned champions:
Friday, 11 p.m. EDT – Jimmy LaRoue’s photo gallery from Day 6 of the 2012 ECNL National Championships has been posted. Be sure to check it out, not only for some intense semifinal action, but also for the surreal cloud formations in the sky prior to a brief rumble of thunder and lightning that delayed action by about 45 minutes as the front passed through the area.
If you’ve missed any of his previous photo galleries from each day of the championships, be sure to check them out below:
Friday, 5 p.m. EDT — Slammers FC have had a fantastic ECNL season and an even better National Finals week, with their Under-16 and U-18 teams both advancing to their respective Flight A championship games here in Waukegan tomorrow. But the Newport Beach, Calif. club’s U-17s ran into possibly the hottest team in the United States in their semifinal today and came out second-best, as Michigan Hawks rolled to a comprehensive 3-0 victory spearheaded by two goals from Madisson Lewis and one from her strike partner Summer Green, both of whom are rising stars in the U.S. Youth National Team system.
“Summer and Madi are just playing at a different level right now,” coach Doug Landefeld told The Soccer Wire afterwards, a sentiment that Slammers coach Ziad Khoury readily shared despite his disappointment with the result.”They’re good buddies, and Madi is running really well off the ball. And Summer is not a selfish kid by any means, she loves to score goals, but she understands the amount of attention she’s going to get and is willing to play the ball and keep the ball moving.
“We’ve had kind of an up-and-down year, and to be playing this well right now is pretty special.”
The game was scoreless at halftime, but Hawks used long spells of possession and ruthless finishing to pull away down the stretch, continuing an amazing tournament performance that began with a 3-2 upset of their Great Lakes rivals, top-seeded Eclipse Select SC, on Wednesday.
“Once we got through that one, there was a sense that we could really make a run and do something,” said Landefeld, whose team built further momentum with a 6-1 rout of Concorde Fire yesterday that even he had a hard time believing with his own eyes.
Though undoubtedly talented, Michigan Hawks barely squeaked into the Flight A championship bracket as the 16th and final qualifier. They’ve made the most of their opportunity, however, and will now battle no. 2 seed CASL Chelsea Ladies in the championship final at 11 a.m. CDT, a huge match which will be broadcast on tape delay by GolTV.
“It’s a wonderful group, and they’ve really been committed to each other, and to working hard,” said Landefeld, who noted that his team came in third at this stage a year ago and has spent the season working to return for another shot. “Getting back here and to be able to play on TV against a great team, and to vie for a national championship, is pretty cool.”
Friday, 3 p.m. EDT – It will be Slammers FC and Dallas Sting in the Under-16 national final tomorrow.
Slammers rallied from a one-goal deficit, and Sammy Solaru scored what proved to be the match-winning goal on an exquisite volley from 10 yards off a corner kick.
Dallas Sting, meanwhile, punched its ticket to the final by virtue of a 2-0 win over PDA.
Currently, the U-17 national semifinals are ongoing, with Michigan Hawks and Slammers FC tied at 0-0 and CASL Chelsea ladies up 1-0 on a 25-yard shot from Alexis Shaffer. Both games are early in the second half.
Friday, 1 p.m. EDT — We’ve been under a weather delay for the past 35 minutes, and after a false start, teams are retaking the fields to resume semifinal play in the Under-16, U-17 and U-18 age brackets on Day 6 of the ECNL National Championships.
Friday, 2:00 a.m. EDT: If you didn’t know better, you’d think “LaRoue” was French for “relentless” — our Elite Youth Editor gets after it.
Here’s some late-night links to his latest ECNL National Finals week content:
Thursday, 11:00 p.m. EDT: Whew. The Soccer Wire’s ECNL National Finals coverage team is sunburned, windburned, and a bit drowsy at the moment after several long days crammed full of soccer — almost all of it of a very high quality — here in Waukegan. Wednesday offered the drama of Under-14 and U-15 championship matches, yet Thursday upped the ante with one tense game after another, not only in the Flight A quarterfinals but also many consolation and Flight B fixtures. More than a few matches ended in deadlocks and had to be decided by penalty-kick shootouts, which subjected those players to the massive pressure of PKs as well as the 20-minute overtime period preceding a shootout. That’s 20 extra minutes of high-intensity play under a relentless summer sun which pushed the heat index well into triple digits until mid-evening, and which certainly took a toll today. Many players could be seen cramping up in the late going, with most doing their best to stretch out those rebellious muscles on their own during lulls in the flow of play, desperate to push through the discomfort (and probably aware that the ECNL’s substitution rules would require them to sit out the remainder of that half).
Little surprise, then, that nearly every coach at the Waukegan SportsPark was constantly driving home the need for careful warm-ups, constant hydration and postgame ice baths to aid the recovery process. ECNL partner Gatorade was out in force to aid in this process, with tents at every field stocked with G-Series products for participants, which was more than just marketing on a day like today — more like first aid. Another noteworthy factor today: the inescapable influence of game changers. Or to put it another way, when the going gets tough, the stars get going. Many blue-chip recruits and national team players rose to the occasion when their teams needed them to, and in many cases, it meant the difference between winning and losing.
For CASL Chelsea Ladies U-17s, who looked every bit like the highest remaining seed in their bracket as they muscled past Ohio Premier Eagles 2-0 to book a Flight A semifinal place, it was the star trio of Paige Reckert, Cameron Castleberry and Joanna Boyles. Reckert (a Clemson commit) and Castleberry (UNC commit) created the goals, while Boyles, a UNC commit who is also a member of the U.S. U-17 National Team which recently qualified for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in dominating fashion, ran the midfield in the fashion of a true no. 10.
For Dallas Texans top-seeded U-18 side, which had to sweat out a stiff challenge from PDA to advance to the semis, it was U.S. U-20 National Team goalkeeper Abby Smith. The University of Texas commit led a stout defensive effort against PDA’s creativity and movement over 100 minutes of open play before saving one penalty kick in the shootout that followed.
For Minnesota Thunder Academy’s U-17s, it was Simone Kolander. The tall, athletic central midfielder and University of Minnesota commit keyed MTA’s composed possession and combination play in their Flight B Top 8 quarterfinal against Carolina Elite Soccer Academy, then blasted a shot into the upper left corner of the net from 20 yards out deep into the overtime stages to win a scoreless match that seemed destined for PKs.
And the list goes on. The Spanish call it “calidad,” or quality — the individual excellence that won’t necessarily win games in and of itself, but often proves to be the decisive factor when a match between two good teams is evenly balanced. Odds are, it’s going to remain the most precious commodity here in Waukegan as trophies are won and lost over the next two days.
Thursday, 5:30 p.m. EDT: The games roll on here in Waukegan, with today’s action schedule to run right up until sundown on account of several 6:15 p.m. CDT kickoffs.
We’ve already spoken to a number of coaches today, and wanted to share a few of their thoughts with you. As would be expected, common topics include the effects of the energy-sapping heat and the gusting wind (which was nonetheless much reduced from yesterday) and the importance of clutch performances in these crucial games.
First, we hear from Solar-Chelsea (Tx.) coach Adrian Solca, whose Under-18 squad overcame Mustang SC (Calif.) 2-1 today to reach the Flight A semifinals.
On the clash with Mustang:
“For the last five years, us and them were at the top of the country, either in ECNL or U.S. [Youth Soccer] finals, and we never had the chance to play. A very solid team, very strong physically. We scored an early goal that gave us a little advantage, and energy to fight. I thought we deserved to win.”
When asked whether the sweltering midday temperatures gave his Texas team an advantage:
“[Skeptically] You can say that. Nobody really likes to play in the wind. We’d like to play a really technical game, [but] it really comes down to opportunities, and taking advantage of them. I think that gives you more energy than just necessarily being fit.”
On his team being just two games away from their first-ever ECNL national championship [they won the U.S. Youth Soccer national championship two years ago]:
“Yeah, but everyone here is deep. Honestly, we never know what to expect from this [event] – it’s all the top teams in the country and we will really try to make it this time…It comes down to their internal motivation to get things done and to excel.”
We also spoke to Dallas Texans coach Sean Bubb after his U-18s edged past PDA Charge in a gripping penalty-kick shootout following nearly two hours of regulation and overtime play that left both sides scoreless.
On winning their quarterfinal ‘the hard way’:
“Yeah, double overtimes, two penalty shootouts is certainly the hard way. But when you have the [U.S.] U-20 National Team goalkeeper [Abby Smith], we like our chances when it gets to [a shootout]. Obviously we would like to do it a lot quicker, a lot sooner, if we could.”
Discussing the challenge posed by their opponents from New Jersey:
“They’re a very good team. [PDA] is a quality club, very well coached, their coaching staff is as good as anything in the country. We know every time we play PDA, we’re in for a hard game. We played in February, these two teams, and it was a cracker, a great game, and today was no different.
“The heat, the bumpy field, the wind – I think both teams really dug down. It ebbed and flowed, it went back and forth, I think they started well, we finished a little stronger. But at this level, you expect games like that. I’m very proud of my girls for the heart, the determination they showed.”