ECNL Boys National Finals: Charlotte SA and CESA advance to U15 title match
Friday morning, the U15 ECNL Boys saw four teams come together, all with eyes for one thing: a spot in the National Championship match.
On Field 5, CESA and NCFC Academy grinded in the first half. Both sides created opportunities, but it was the back line for each side that dictated the match. For every scoring opportunity, there was a defense ready for a block, a clear, or a goalkeeper ready for a save.
Meanwhile, between Charlotte SA and Eclipse Select, it was a scoring barrage.
At the opening whistle, Eclipse Select controlled possession and manipulated the game in their favor. A shot into the box created several follow-up chances and eventually, a deflection led to the ball finding the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
However, Charlotte SA flipped the field in their favor and quickly established possession in the attacking third. By the 14 minute mark, Charlotte potted two goals, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead.
Before the 20-minute water break, Eclipse Select drew even once again, as the team cashed in on a back-post header to make it a 2-2 game.
As the half wore on, both teams continued to test the defense, searching for a go-ahead goal, but after the first 40, Eclipse Select and Charlotte were tied 2-2.
With both games tied, the second half for each game was going to be vital to booking a spot in the National Championship match.
For CESA and NCFC Academy, it was much of the same. Both sides continued to press, searching for the contest’s first tally. Throughout the half, CESA and NCFC Academy created opportunities to score, forcing the respective goalkeepers to make big saves.
Likewise, on the stadium field, Charlotte SA and Eclipse Select had settled into the match after a prolific first 20 minutes. Each side had stretches of possession, where it looked like a goal was inevitable, but the score remained 2-2 as the minutes continued to tick away.
After another 40 minutes, both games were still tied. Each semifinal was heading to penalty kicks.
Between CESA and NCFC Academy, NCFC Academy quickly took the lead when CESA was stopped on its first attempt. However, in the fourth round, CESA responded with a save of its own. Even once again, the sides traded goals until the sixth round, when CESA converted but NCFC Academy clanked a shot off the post, putting CESA into the National Championship match.
“The boys have been on a great run right now,” said Victor Pace, CESA U15 Head Coach. “Today was a bit of a heartstopper, but we’re very proud of the boys. Both of our goalkeepers have been outstanding, they haven’t given up a goal during this whole run of play through the playoffs. We were prepared for this moment and we’re now excited for the challenge of winning a national championship.”
In the other semifinal match, after taking a 1-0 lead in PKs, Charlotte SA’s goalkeeper made a save in the first round to give his team the edge off the bat. In the fourth round, Eclipse Select made a save to make it even again, but immediately put a shot over the net to give Charlotte the lead once again. In the fifth round, Charlotte SA buried a shot, clinching the win and the second spot in the Final.
“It feels really great to get to the Final,” said Steve Gummer, Charlotte SA Academy Director. “It’s been a long season. In Greensboro, we were 90 seconds from going out, but we scored two goals and now we’re one win away from a National Championship. Today, there has to be a winner and a loser and fortunately, we got through. We all know penalties can be Heartbreak Hotel but at the end of it when you come through, it’s a wonderful feeling.”
With Charlotte SA and CESA competing against each other in the National Championship match, it’s North Carolina vs. South Carolina. The clubs are very familiar with each other, with both being rivals in the Mid-Atlantic Conference.
“This has been great for our conference,” Pace said. “The Mid-Atlantic Conference has been well represented here. We have some familiarity with them and the conference has been great. Every team is really competitive, the coaching is great and it reflects in their teams. It’s exciting to face Charlotte in the Final.”
This Border War will surely set up an exciting U15 National Championship match on Sunday, and both clubs have their eyes set on silverware, with just one victory separating the club from their season’s long goal.
“The National Championship, it’s the pinnacle of the season, it’s the pinnacle of the league,” Gummer said. “It’s all the hard work and the grind that comes throughout 12-plus months of preparation. Sunday will be a great challenge and hopefully we can walk away with some silverware.”