ECNL Girls National Playoffs Day 5: A high-stakes 4th of July
The Fourth of July saw a continuation of the ECNL Girls National Playoffs in Lakewood Ranch, Fla. See below for a look at how some of the post pivotal matches of the day unfolded.
In Fate’s Hands
When FC Dallas’ U14 squad walked on to the pitch Sunday morning, they knew what was at stake.
Sitting in third place in Group F with two points, the team was looking up at both MLVA and Connecticut FC, each with four points.
In order to advance, FC Dallas needed a +5 goal differential, along with a draw between MVLA and Connecticut FC in their respective contest Sunday.
It was a tall task.
Facing Eclipse Select, always a rough challenge, FC Dallas did its part in the first half, scoring three goals, including two in a span of three minutes.
FC Dallas was more than halfway to its targeted goal differential through the first 45 minutes. Meanwhile, MVLA and Connecticut were deadlocked at 0-0, exactly what FC Dallas needed.
But in an instant, it seemed like it was over.
Early in the second half, Eclipse Select was able to find the back of the net, cutting FC Dallas’ lead to 3-1 and bringing its goal differential back to just +2.
FC Dallas’ Holly Storer wasn’t going to let that stand.
After scoring her team’s third goal, she broadened the goal differential back to +3 with a tally in the 59th minute. She then recorded her third of the game in the 75th, pushing the team’s goal differential to +4.
FC Dallas was now tied with MVLA on goal differential, pending the result of its game against Connecticut FC. But since MVLA owned the total goal tiebreaker, FC Dallas would need one more.
Just four minutes after her hat-trick, Storer buried her fourth goal of the day. FC Dallas had achieved the +5 goal differential it needed to advance. The score just needed to hold.
“She’s fantastic,” said Head Coach Chris Ring. “She obviously gave it everything she had and more.”
The FC Dallas defense hunkered down, denying any scoring chance to Eclipse Select and held onto its lead until the final whistle. They had done their part. But they still needed a little help.
After a scoreless first half, MVLA scored two goals, earning a victory and securing its spot in the U14 Champions League knockout round. FC Dallas’ season was over.
“There’s lots of emotion, seeing your season come to an end,” Ring said. “Just like every ECNL team, we came into this week hoping to become champions. It didn’t happen and now we regroup and get ready for next year.”
But despite the result, Ring couldn’t have been prouder of how his team performed with its back against the wall.
“I’m unbelievably proud of our team today,” Ring said. “We came into today needed some help, but knowing we needed to win by four goals. We did that. Unfortunately, the other result didn’t go our way. The kids did everything we asked of them and we couldn’t be prouder.”
Group E of the U15 age group entered Sunday all with a single point after one game. With all square between four teams, whoever earned a win in Game 2 would be in the driver’s seat for the group’s spot in the knockout round.
After 90 minutes, that spot belonged to Minnesota Thunder.
Minnesota faced off against MVLA and barely wasted any time getting onto the scoreboard. In the 11th minute, the Thunder had a long-range free-kick. The initial service never made it on frame, but Minnesota refused to let the ball be cleared, generating a second and third scoring chance. Finally, on the fourth scoring chance, Isabel McEwan found the loose ball and buried her shot to give her side a 1-0 lead.
In the 34th minute, Minnesota doubled its lead. Izzy Engle had the ball outside the box and wove through the MVLA defense before ripping a shot on net. The MLVA goalkeeper made a stop, but Grace Estby crashed the back post, picked up the rebound knocked it home for a 2-0 lead.
The Thunder carried its momentum into the final 45, scoring just seven minutes into second half, earning itself a 3-0 lead. The Minnesota midfield sprung Jillian Hagman with a throughball, giving her a break away with just one defender on her back. Battling the defender and falling to the grass, she managed to get a shot off. The MLVA goalkeeper got her hands on the shot, but it still rolled across the goal line for the score.
MVLA attempted to mount a comeback, scoring a goal late in the second half, but the three-goal lead was too much to overcome, as Minnesota cruised to a 3-1 win.
“It feels great to get that result, we’ll take that any day of the week,” said Head Coach Meghan Schoeberl. “The girls competed hard, worked hard, and the biggest thing is this group always does it together. They stay together and that’s how we earned the win today.”
With its counterparts WNY Flash and So Cal Blues earning their second draw of the group stage, Minnesota is now two points ahead of any team in its group. The team will be back at Premier Sports Campus tomorrow morning, knowing exactly what is at stake.
“If you don’t win today, it’s really hard to go through to the knockout round,” Schoeberl said. “So getting three points, it’s massive. Now we’ll hydrate as much as we can, ice, relax in the air conditioning and then be ready to go tomorrow.”
To view the complete scores and schedules for the ECNL National Playoffs, click here.