ECNL Boys National Finals Preview: U17 teams set for quarterfinals
And then there were eight.
After an extremely competitive ECNL Boys National Playoffs, the first-ever postseason for ECNL Boys, eight U17 teams have advanced to the National Finals to compete for a national championship.
CESA, Dallas Texans, Eclipse Select, NEFC, Pateadores, San Diego Surf, San Juan SC and STA 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.
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: 11-4-3, 2.00 ppg, +9 goal differential
CESA finished second in the Mid-Atlantic Conference and headed to Greensboro as the third team in Group I, paired up with Florida Kraze, Albion Hurricanes and Maryland United.
In its first group game, CESA defeated Albion Hurricanes by a score of 2-1 and then earned a 3-2 victory over Florida Kraze, giving the team six points and the top spot in the group. In its final contest, CESA handed Maryland United a 2-1 defeat, moving on to the knockout round.
In the Round of 16, CESA jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first half, but then NTH-NASA clawed back to tie it at 2-2. With just five minutes remaining, CESA broke through and chipped the onrushing goalkeeper for the go-ahead goal and to move on to St. Louis and the National Finals.
Regular Season: 15-4-1, 2.40 ppg, +47 goal differential
Finishing first in the North Division of the Texas Conference, Dallas Texans descended onto the National Playoffs as the top team in Group O, also consisting of WNY Flash, Real Salt Lake – AZ and VDA.
Dallas Texans played VDA to a 0-0 score in the group play opener and then logged a 3-1 victory against Real Salt Lake – AZ. With four points and facing off against WNY Flash, a win or a draw would clinch a spot in the knockout round, and Texans followed through with a 2-0 win.
In the knockout round, Dallas Texans, playing on the stadium field and with its younger teams in the stands, faced off against Washington Premier and secured its place at the National Finals with a 2-0 win.
“The U17 Dallas Texans are excited to take part in the upcoming ECNL Boys National Finals,” said Jonathan Palmer, Dallas Texans U17 Coach. “The team has worked all year to put themselves in a position to win a National Championship, and the coaches are proud of the players’ commitment to accomplish their goal. The National Playoffs proved to be an intense road of competitive games, and we know the Finals will provide the same atmosphere.”
Regular Season: 9-0-1, 2.70 ppg, +17 goal differential
Fresh off a first-place finish in the North Division of the Midwest Conference and being one of the few U17 teams to attend the National Playoffs without a loss, Eclipse Select was put at the top of Group L with Pacific Northwest, Miramar FC and United Futbol Academy.
Eclipse Select started group play against UFA, collecting three points in a 3-2 win, and then defeated Miramar FC by a score of 1-0 for another three points. With just one point separating Eclipse Select and the knockout round, the team did their part by dispatching Pacific Northwest with a 4-1 victory.
With a spot in the National Finals on the line, Eclipse Select battled Houston Dynamo Youth and walked away with a 1-0 victory.
Regular Season: 13-2-1, 2.50 ppg, +25 goal differential
NEFC clinched a spot in the National Playoffs with a first-place finish in the North Division of the Northeast Conference and was rewarded with the top spot Group F, which also included Legends FC, Space Coast United and GSA.
NEFC kicked off the group stage with a 4-1 win over GSA and then followed it up with a 4-0 win against Space Coast United. The team drew Legends FC 1-1 in the group finale but its seven points were enough to push NEFC into the knockout round.
NEFC played a back-and-forth affair with NCFC Youth and after 90 minutes plus extra time, the score was 2-2, forcing the two sides to head to penalties. In the shootout, NEFC netted six while NCFC Youth only converted five, meaning NEFC was moving on to St. Louis.
Regular Season: 9-5-2, 1.81 ppg, +19 goal differential
Pateadores finished the regular season sixth in the highly competitive Southwest Conference, which was good enough to be placed in Group G as the second team with Crossfire Premier, FC Dallas and Connecticut FC.
Pateadores started off group play on the right foot with a 4-0 win over FC Dallas and continued that momentum with a 3-0 win against Connecticut FC in the second game. In the finale, Pateadores drew Crossfire Premier 2-2, but its seven points lead the group, sending the team to the knockout round.
Pateadores tussled with Tennessee SC in the Round of 16 and escaped with a 1-0 win, locking up a spot in St. Louis in the National Finals.
San Diego Surf
Regular Season: 11-4-0, 2.20 pgg, +19 goal differential
Another Southwest Conference team, San Diego Surf finished second, ultimately being selected as the top team in Group P with La Roca, Tulsa SC and FC Stars.
In the group play opener, San Diego Surf gave FC Stars a 2-1 defeat and then gave Tulsa SC an identical 2-1 loss. Facing La Roca with a two-point lead over its opponent, San Diego Surf secured the group win with a 3-2 victory.
San Diego Surf was matched up against Lonestar SC South in the Round of 16 and left no doubt, using a 5-2 win to continue on to St. Louis and the National Finals.
“We are excited and very proud to have our U17s competing in the ECNL National Finals,” said Benoit David, San Diego Surf ECNL Boys Academy Director. “It’s been a challenging year for us, so to be able to continue this adventure a little bit longer makes it a little more special. I would like to say a big thank you to all our staff, as well as all our Surf families for their continued support and dedication, as it takes everyone to get these young men performing so well, week in, week out. Lastly, to the players, entertain the sidelines with your style of play, dream big and give it all you got for the opportunity to be a part of Surf’s history.”
San Juan SC
Regular Season: 7-1-0, 2.63 ppg, +30 goal differential
San Juan SC headed to Greensboro after finishing first in the Northern Cal Conference and was selected as the top team in Group C, which also consisted of McLean YSA, Real So Cal and Penn Fusion.
San Juan SC began group play with a 4-1 victory against Penn Fusion and then secured another three points with a 2-1 win against Real So Cal. San Juan ultimately suffered a 2-1 loss in the group play finale to McLean YSA, but its six points through the first two games was more than enough to put the club into the knockout round.
In the Round of 16, San Juan SC paired up with NCFC Youth Academy and the two played a tight contest with San Juan ultimately prevailing by a score of 2-1.
Regular Season: 12-0-6, 2.33 ppg, +31 goal differential
Playing to a second-place finish in the South Division of the Northeast Conference during the regular season, STA found itself as the top team in Group M with Florida West, FC Wisconsin and Atlanta Fire United.
STA commenced group play with a 4-1 win against Atlanta United Fire and added another three points with a 2-1 victory over FC Wisconsin. Needing to just hold off Florida West for a spot in the Round of 16, the team did just that, sending Florida West home with STA’s 4-2 victory.
For the knockout round opener, STA drew Palm Beach United and in an exciting match, pulled out a 1-0 victory, punching its ticket to St. Louis in the process.