ECNL Girls National Finals Preview: U15 age group set for quarterfinals
The nation’s best U15 teams are heading to Richmond, Virginia for the ECNL Girls National Finals, where eight teams will battle for a national title.
Challenge SC, Colorado Rapids, Internationals SC, KC Athletics, San Diego Surf, Solar SC, WNY Flash and World Class FC all finished at the top of their groups at the ECNL Girls National Playoffs in Lakewood Ranch, FL, advancing to the knockout out stage of the tournament, taking place at the National Finals.
This will also be the first time so many teams will be heading to the ECNL Girls National Finals. Due to Hurricane Elsa, the ECNL made the decision to bring all eight teams to Richmond, hosting the entire knockout round at one location for the first time in league history.
Below is a breakdown of how each team reached Richmond and looking ahead at what’s in store at the ECNL Girls National Finals.
Regular Season: 11-5-4, 1.85 ppg, +14 goal differential
Heading into the ECNL Girls National Playoffs, Challenge SC finished third in the Texas Conference and was placed at the bottom of Group G, battling Bethesda, GSA and Portland Thorns at the National Playoffs.
Challenge SC drew Bethesda 0-0 in its opening contest of group play, then followed it up with a 1-0 victory against GSA. Challenge SC then beat Portland Thorns 2-0 while GSA beat Bethesda 5-2, creating a tie at the top of the group. But since Challenge won the head-to-head matchup against GSA, they advanced out of the group.
“We are so proud of our U15 ECNL team and their qualification into the ECNL National Finals,” said Chris Maravelli, Challenge SC ECNL Associate Director. “The girls have worked incredibly hard all year and shown an impressive ability to rise to the occasion in big games. We seem to be peaking at the right time and our record over the last six weeks suggests that we have a confident group who believe in our system and each other. Challenge has a long history of competing for national championships and as one of only two clubs from the Texas Conference to qualify for the National Finals, we are excited to represent Houston and our entire Texas Conference against the nation’s best in Richmond.”
Regular Season: 8-0-2, 2.60 ppg, +28 goal differential
Riding high from an undefeated regular season, the team’s third consecutive season without a regular-season conference loss, and finishing at the top of the Mountain Division in the Northwest Conference, Colorado Rapids came to the National Playoffs as the top team in Group F, paired with FC Dallas, Charlotte SA and SLSG White.
In its opening game, Colorado Rapids shut out SLSG White by a score of 4-0 before earning a 3-0 shutout against Charlotte SA. With FC Dallas also winning both its games, it set up a winner-take-all group play finale. The two played to a 1-1 draw, and due to having a better goal differential, Colorado Rapids advanced to Richmond for the National Finals.
“We are proud of our U15 group and excited that they have the opportunity to showcase their ability in a playoff format,” said Andrew Kummer, Colorado Rapids Girls Program Director. “We felt they had the talent for a positive run last summer but to win one this year would be significant.”
Regular Season: 14-1-3, 2.50 ppg, +54 goal differential
Internationals SC finished first in the Ohio Valley Conference, put up one of the best goal differentials in the age group during the regular season, and was put into Group H with Connecticut FC, PDA Blue and Real So Cal.
In the first game of group play, Internationals took a 3-1 win from Real So Cal and followed it up with a 2-2 draw versus PDA Blue. With both PDA Blue and Internationals tied at the top of the group with four points, Internationals secured a 3-0 win against Connecticut FC, and due to PDA Blue’s 2-0 win against Real So Cal, Internationals advanced on the goal differential tiebreaker.
“We are proud of and excited for our U15s taking the next step on our journey by advancing to the ECNL National Finals in Richmond,” said Keri Sarver, ECNL Director and U15 Head Coach. “Advancing out of Group H was a total team effort against three strong clubs. This group has remained committed and focused on our team goals and season plan throughout the year. As one of the smaller clubs in the league, it is even more impressive what we are able to accomplish with limited resources – credit this team’s discipline, attention to detail and buying into our club-based model and family philosophy of playing with each other and for each other!”
Regular Season: 6-2-1, 2.11 ppg, +14 goal differential
Finishing in third place in the Midwest Conference, KC Athletics headed to the National Playoffs as the third team in Group D, placed with VDA, Crossfire United and Sunrise Prime FC.
KC Athletics kicked off group play with a convincing win against Crossfire United and then drew VDA 1-1 in the second contest, setting up a must-win game against Sunrise Prime, with a spot in the quarterfinals on the line.
In the third game of group play, KC Athletics left no doubt, cruising to a win and a spot in Richmond.
San Diego Surf
Regular Season: 11-0-2, 2.69 ppg, +54 goal differential
San Diego Surf finished second in the Southwest Conference, annually one of the most competitive Conferences in the ECNL, and was placed into Group C, along with Concorde Fire Platinum, Washington Premier and SUSA.
Surf opened up group play with a big win against Washington Premier and then earned a point with a 0-0 draw against SUSA. Tied atop the group with Concorde Fire Platinum and facing them in the group finale, San Diego pulled out a 1-0 win, booking its spot at the National Finals in the process.
Regular Season: 20-0-1, 2.90 ppg, +85 goal differential
Solar SC played an incredible regular season, amassing the most wins of any team at the U15 age group and entered the National Playoffs as the top seed, placed in Group A with CESA, Ohio Premier and Davis Legacy.
Solar took three points in the first contest with a conclusive win against Davis Legacy in the group opener and then the team followed it up with another convincing win, this time against Ohio Premier. Solar closed out group play with its third win, this one against CESA, ultimately outscoring its opponents 16-0 in the three contests.
Regular Season: 9-5-4, 1.72 ppg, +18 goal differential
Finishing third in the Ohio Valley Conference, WNY Flash headed to National Playoffs as the fourth team in Group E, facing off against Minnesota Thunder, So Cal Blues and MVLA.
The Flash started out group play with two straight draws, coming against Minnesota Thunder and So Cal Blues, giving it two points heading into the final contest. Sitting two points behind Minnesota for first place, a win was necessary at a minimum, with the potential of needing some help from other teams as well.
In the finale, WNY Flash earned a 2-1 victory against MVLA, while Minnesota suffered a 1-0 defeat, pushing the Flash to the top of the group and to the National Finals in Richmond.
“We are incredibly proud of the entire U15 squad and Girls ECNL Director, Aaran Lines, for reaching the Elite Eight,” said Eric Dade, WNY Flash Executive DOC. “It is an incredible opportunity for our players to showcase and compete for a trophy on a national level, and to continue to show how we are changing the landscape of soccer in Western New York. We have always had a history of excellence dating back to our championships with our professional teams and are excited to continue our successes through the ECNL and the excellent platform it provides. A trophy at this level would be an incredible accomplishment for our staff, players and community and a testament to the work that has gone into the Flash Academy over the last nine years.”
World Class FC
Regular Season: 10-4-1, 2.07 ppg, +18 goal differential
After finishing third in the Northeast Conference, World Class FC descended onto the National Playoffs as the third team in Group B, placed with LAFC Slammers, SLSG Navy and Real Colorado Nationals.
World Class started group play with a 1-0 win over SLSG Navy and then battled with LAFC Slammers in a very even match that saw the two sides draw 1-1. The squad closed out group play with another 1-1 draw, this one to Real Colorado National. The team’s five points was enough to win the group, sending the team to the National Finals in the process.