ECNL U-14: Ignoring coach’s advice, just this once, pays dividends for Arsenal in winning championship
By Jimmy LaRoue
Waukegan, Ill.–Ignoring her coach’s advice doesn’t normally pay dividends for Nicole Leggio, but this time, it helped give Arsenal FC the Under-14 ECNL national championship, holding off SoCal Conference rival San Diego Surf 2-0 in Wednesday’s final.
Leggio had planned to run forward on a long-range free kick opportunity, but her teammate, sweeper Danika Bowman, told her to take the kick. The wind helped the ball sail into the box, finding its way to teammate Courtney Gazmarian, who put the ball into the net.
“I actually didn’t listen to my coach,” Leggio said. “He told me to kick it to the right, and then I kicked it to the left, and turned out it worked out,” Leggio said.
Arsenal added an insurance goal in the second half, after the Surf goalkeeper came out of her net to clear a ball away from her goal. After Alyssa Carthan blocked the ball, Marissa Everett got hold of it and shot into the empty net before the goalkeeper could get back.
“That goal closed the game away for me, as a team,” said Arsenal coach Noah Kooiman. “I’m just glad they didn’t regress, and they finished the way I thought they could.”
Having defeated Surf by the same scoreline earlier in the season, Arsenal had a definite game plan going into the final.
“We knew how they played, and [their] formation, so we were pretty confident,” Leggio said. “We wanted to open the field up more wide, and move the ball and keep possession.”
While Kooiman’s voice was hoarse after shouting out instruction and encouragement to his team throughout the national championships, he had enough voice left to praise both teams.
“There’s a mutual respect with us and Surf,” Kooiman said. “We battled so many times this season, and one day it’s going to be theirs, one day it’s going to be ours. And the level of players that come to you, to play the teams we played to get to the show, it makes it taste that much better when you’ve got, I think, two of the best teams in the Western region, and played great soccer. It was a great game to watch.”
In the blustery, hot conditions at the Waukegan SportsPark, Kooiman had wanted to start the game going with the wind because the team was tired, but it didn’t work out that way. That turned out fine, however.
“I actually felt that, even though I wanted to go the other way, it was good for us because the wind did not play advantage to anybody because it was so high,” Kooiman said.
He said he was proud of the girls on the team for taking the trip out of state “and grabbing something this big.”
And though the technical skill might have been off after playing their fourth game in four days, Arsenal was carried by something else.
“I think in the final, you’ve got to let the emotions take over,” Kooiman said. “You’re injured, you don’t feel good. When you get to a final, you’ve got to let that stuff go and then manage the girls on who’s going to finish the game. There’s some girls who didn’t get in today because, why change the chemistry? The chemistry was good, and sometimes you’ve got to make those calls.”
He said the winning the national championship was a sweet experience.
“We’ve had to play the best here,” Kooiman said, “so that makes it taste even better.”