ECNL Boys National Finals Preview: Eight U16 teams head to St. Louis
And then there were eight.
After an extremely competitive regular season and ECNL Boys National Playoffs, the first-ever postseason for ECNL Boys, eight teams have advanced to the National Finals to compete for a national championship.
CESA, Dallas Texans, Houston Dynamo Youth, Manhattan SC, Richmond United, San Diego Surf, South Carolina United and Wilmington Hammerheads all advanced out of their groups in Greensboro at the National Playoffs to the knockout stage, and then won their respective Round of 16 matchup to advance to St. Louis. Of those teams, three came from the Mid-Atlantic Conference, the most teams from any single conference in any age group, and also features the first and only WildCard team to reach the National Finals in South Carolina United.
Below is a breakdown of how each team reached the National Finals and looking ahead at what’s in store in St. Louis.
Regular Season: 11-1-6, 2.17 ppg, +17 goal differential
After finishing third in the Mid-Atlantic Conference, CESA headed to Greensboro as the second team in Group G, which also consisted of Florida West, Legends FC and St. Louis Scott Gallagher.
CESA began group play with a 2-2 draw against Legends FC before getting a 4-0 win against St. Louis Scott Gallagher. With four points and tied with Florida West for the top spot, the group play finale would decide who would be moving on to the knockout round.
Battling Florida West, CESA earned a 3-0 win, moving on to the Round of 16. In the knockout round, CESA clawed its way to a 1-0 victory against Ohio Premier, clinching a spot in St. Louis.
Regular Season: 18-3-0, 2.57 ppg, +46 goal differential
Earning the most points in the North Division of the Texas Conference but finishing second in points per game, Dallas Texans were placed in Group L with Penn Fusion, Florida Premier and Concorde Fire Premier for the National Playoffs.
Opening group play with a match against Concorde Fire Premier, Dallas Texans took a 1-0 win and then followed it up with a 3-1 win versus Florida Premier. The boys from Dallas then proceeded to hand Penn Fusion a 3-0 loss, securing all nine points of group play and advancing to the Round of 16.
In the knockout round, Dallas Texans matched up against Sporting Delaware and eked out a 1-0 win to advance to St. Louis.
“I would like to congratulate the ECNL for a professional and very competitive playoff event,” said Hassan Nazari, Dallas Texans Director. “Although every game was a nail-biter, the players enjoyed being a part of it. Every game was very entertaining for parents and spectators to watch. I am especially proud of our teams, players and coaches for making it to the national stage.”
Regular Season: 11-5-3, 1.89 ppg, +22 goal differential
Houston Dynamo completed the regular season in third place in the South Division of the Texas Conference, resulting in the club being placed as the third team in Group N, along with Arlington, Eastside FC and Miramar FC.
Beginning with a game against Eastside FC, Houston Dynamo gave the club a 2-0 loss before earning another three points in a 4-1 win over Arlington Soccer. In the group play finale, Houston Dynamo secured a 2-1 win against Miramar FC, moving on to the knockout round.
In the knockout round, Houston Dynamo paired up with Texas rival FC Dallas for a bitter contest that saw Dynamo emerge victorious with a 2-1 win.
Regular Season: 11-2-3, 2.25 ppg, +29 goal differential
Manhattan SC finished atop of the Northeast Conference during the regular season, earning itself the second spot in Group A with such teams as Louisville City, Lonestar SC South and Atlanta Fire United.
Manhattan SC started out group play with a 2-2 draw against Lonestar SC South, but then shut out Atlanta Fire United en route to a 3-0 victory. With four points and every team within striking distance of the knockout round, Manhattan SC needed a big game against Louisville SC and got it with a 3-1 win to lock in a spot in the knockout round.
In the Round of 16, Manhattan SC played its best game of the playoffs, solidly earning a 4-1 victory against NC Fusion to grab a spot in the quarterfinals in St. Louis.
“Our U16 Manhattan SC ECNL Boys side is excited and honored to represent our club and New York City as one of the final eight teams at the ECNL National Finals in St. Louis,” said Ray Selvadurai, Manhattan SC Director of Coaching. “Our current U16s will now have the opportunity to stake their claim as the nation’s best team in our first full season as Boys ECNL members. Head Coach Colin Hodge has done an excellent job in preparing our team and implementing our club training, match plans and philosophies and our boys have executed well and emerged on top from a highly competitive Northeast Conference and ECNL National Playoff event. We look forward to competing for a national championship in St. Louis, and putting on display this wonderful group of players and young men from our club.”
Regular Season: 12-1-2, 2.53 ppg, +41 goal differential
As one of three regular-season conference champions, Richmond United stood atop the Mid-Atlantic Conference and was grouped together with Match Fit Academy, Beach FC and Florida Kraze in Group D for the National Playoffs.
Starting with a 1-0 win against Florida Kraze, Richmond United continued its winning ways with a 4-2 victory against Beach FC. With six points and needing just one more to head to the Round of 16, Richmond United drew Match Fit 0-0, clinching a spot in the knockout round.
Coupled with NEFC, Richmond United proved its determination to be one of the final eight teams with a 3-0 win to head to St. Louis for the quarterfinals.
“We are incredibly proud of our U16 team and Coach Will Bates,” said Sascha Gorerres, Richmond United Academy Director. “This group of players has improved so much and qualifying for the National Finals is the culmination of their hard work and sacrifices over the last few years. In such a competitive league, it was certainly not easy to get here, but the resilience of this team has been inspiring to all of us. Being among the best eight teams in the country means that every game at the National Finals will be the most difficult of the season, but our club and players believe, and we have no doubt, that they will do their best to bring a National title home to Richmond.”
Regular Season: 13-0-2, 2.73 ppg, +35 goal differential
As one of the few teams without a loss during the regular season, San Diego Surf headed to the National Playoffs with a wave of momentum, looking to build off that when it was placed in Group B with Rockford Raptors, UFA and Maryland United.
Surf kicked off group play with a 1-1 draw against Maryland United, but banked three points in a 2-1 win over UFA. With just a one-point lead on Rockford, the two sides battled it out in the group play finale, with San Diego taking the 3-0 win.
In the Round of 16, San Diego took on in-state club FC Golden State East proved to be the better side with a 3-0 win, clinching a quarterfinals spot in the process.
“We are excited and very proud to have our U16 team advance to St. Louis for the ECNL Boys National Finals,” said Benoit David, San Diego Surf Academy Director. “This club belongs to be competing at these final stages of the season. I want to say thank you to all our staff, whether that be administrative, performance-based or coaching, as well as all our Surf families for their continued support and dedication, as it takes everyone to get these young men performing to the best of their abilities each and every day. This doesn’t happen without the support of all of those surrounding the club.”
Regular Season: 9-6-3, 1.67 ppg, +6 goal differential
South Carolina was one of the last teams to qualify for the National Playoffs, as the club finished eighth in the Mid-Atlantic Conference and was placed as the third team in Group H, paired with such clubs as Davis Legacy, Tulsa SC and Real So Cal.
South Carolina came out of the gates with a 3-2 win against Tulsa SC and then put the rest of the group on notice with a huge win against Davis Legacy. South Carolina United then pushed itself into the knockout round with a 0-0 draw against Real So Cal.
The club’s Cinderella run continued with a 3-1 win against Pipeline SC, allowing the club to advance to St. Louis and extend its title chase.
“We are excited to represent South Carolina United at the ECNL National Finals,” said Lee Morris, South Carolina United Director of Player Development. “Making it to the ECNL National Finals was something this team set out to achieve from the beginning of the year. To progress out of a tough group and advance to the final eight is a testament to the hard work our guys have put in. The end goal is a national championship, and to win that would be an historic moment for our team and the whole club. The resources, the leadership, and the support provided by South Carolina United FC has allowed us to play on the biggest of stages. We are looking forward to the challenge and having an opportunity to bring a national championship back home!”
Regular Season: 9-4-5, 1.78 ppg, +23 goal differential
Another Mid-Atlantic Conference club, Wilmington Hammerheads finished in sixth place in the regular season and was selected into Group F, along with Crossfire Premier, STA and Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
The Hammerheads jumped to the top of the group with three points in a 3-0 win against STA in the tournament opener, then followed it up with another three points, this time in a 4-0 victory against Pittsburgh. Wilmington then closed out group play with a 2-1 win, qualifying for the Round of 16 in the process.
In the knockout stage, Wilmington faced off against NCFC Youth, taking a 3-1 victory and moving on to St. Louis.