Waukegan, Ill. – The Elite Clubs National League concluded its 2011-12 season with a slate of dramatic national championship matches at the Waukegan SportsPark on Saturday, capping a week of top-caliber girls’ soccer action which drew nearly 300 teams and thousands of spectators from across the country as well as millions of dollars in economic impact.
“We’re delighted to wrap up another successful season with an amazing National Finals, featuring seven days of fantastic soccer at a beautiful venue,” said ECNL commissioner Sarah Kate Noftsinger in a press release. “On behalf of our entire league, I’d like to thank the Waukegan SportsPark and the entire community for their warm hospitality, not to mention the ECNL players, coaches and families who made this the best ECNL event to date.”
The ECNL National Finals kicked off last Sunday, June 24 with matches in the Under-14 and U-15 age groups, and after three days of knockout competition, Arsenal FC (based in Temecula, Calif.) defeated San Diego Surf 2-0 to claim the U-14 ECNL national championship and Colorado Rush edged past Dallas Sting 1-0 to earn the title of U-15 ECNL national champs.
Wednesday also marked the onset of U-16, U-17 and U-18 play. The leading ECNL teams in those age levels competed in four days of elimination play to determine who would vie for national titles at week’s end, performing at a very high level despite a scorching summer heat wave.
After falling behind 2-0 in the first half, Newport Beach, Calif. club Slammers FC conjured up a stirring comeback to defeat their counterparts from Dallas Sting 3-2 in overtime, winning the U-16 ECNL championship.
The U-17 ECNL national championship was an equally dramatic affair, as a hard-fought match between CASL Chelsea Ladies (Raleigh, N.C.) and Michigan Hawks ended in a 1-1 draw which had to be decided via a penalty-kick shootout.
Though it required seven gripping rounds of spot kicks, CASL Chelsea prevailed to claim the title in front of a capacity crowd. That game will be televised nationwide on GolTV at 8 p.m. ET this Thursday. Michigan Hawks had better luck in the U-18 championship game, where their oldest squad defeated Slammers 4-0.
Beyond the championship brackets, hundreds of other matches took place over the week as teams in the ECNL’s “Flight B” groups battled for top honors. Others played consolation matches to determine final standings placement while displaying their talents in front of some 300 NCAA coaches, as well as U.S. Soccer scouts in attendance to identify and evaluate players for possible inclusion in United States Youth National Teams.
In just its third year of existence, the ECNL has established a strong reputation as the premier girls’ soccer league in North America, offering high-level competition and unparalleled coaching expertise in a club-centered environment designed to prioritize player development over results. ECNL play will resume later this summer when the 2012-13 ECNL season kicks off in late August.
In addition to National Finals, the league stages five National Showcase Events per season to bring together the nation’s best players and teams. Similar to this season’s other showcases in Phoenix, Sanford, Fla., San Antonio, San Diego and Zarephath, N.J., the National Finals contributed an estimated $3 million in economic impact to Waukegan and its neighboring communities.*