ECNL U-14: SoCal Conference rivals Arsenal, San Diego Surf punch tickets to final
By Jimmy LaRoue
Waukegan, Ill.– This much is guaranteed about the Under-14 final: the national champion will come from the SoCal Conference.
Southern California’s Arsenal FC made a lone goal from Carly Gamble stand up in a 1-0 win over PDA, and as a reward, will play its SoCal Conference rivals San Diego Surf in the final.
Arsenal finished 14-2-2 in the SoCal Conference, second to Surf’s 15-2-1. However, Arsenal handed one of Surf’s two losses on the regular season, 2-0 in an April 22 match.
“They came out and really played their game, then we got warmed up and then started playing a little bit,” said Arsenal coach Noah Koolman.
Koolman has a defense-first philosophy that worked well against PDA.
“I really felt that as they started pressing, started changing, we neutralized it,” Koolman said.
Koolman praised Ayanna Robles as someone in the midfield who “processes the game very well.”
He said it’s been taking awhile for the team to get into a rhythm. He said Arsenal was able to push through the previous day’s win over Eclipse Select Soccer Club, and then yesterday, put together a better, more complete performance–about 65 minutes worth.
Arsenal is a team that prides itself on being an attacking team, but defensively stout, as Koolman likes to build his teams from the back.
“As I teach them defense, they start moving in the midfield, so I have people that understand the concept of second defender, containment, double-teaming, channeling and stuff like that. I always build my teams from the back up, and it seems to do well for us, because as they get older, a 1-0 game is a 1-0 game.”
Though Arsenal hasn’t put together the complete performance he wants, Koonsman is confident.
“We’re kind of hit and miss right now, but you know, we’ve got into the final, and hopefully we’ll be able to put a full game up like we did against [FC] Dallas (a 3-0 win for Arsenal)
The team hasn’t thought about the fourth game, he said, but wants them to be disciplined and organized throughout the match.
Arsenal’s opponent is a familiar one in Surf, who advanced to the final by outpacing Mustang 3-2 in penalty kicks after playing 1-1 through regulation and overtime as Surf goalkeeper Sumer Rahe saved one penalty and got a hand on two others, while two other Mustang shooters put their attempts high or wide of the target.
“I think out of every game that we played this week, that’s been the best soccer-playing game that we’ve had,” said Surf coach Jose Ocampo. “So from the back to the front, it has been a full effort.”
Ayssa Fiddes scored the lone goal of the match for Surf in the win, though her coach said Surf created a lot of opportunities and was better through two-thirds of the game. Ocampo said he felt confident in Rahe.
“She just feels she understands where players are going,” Ocampo said. “She reads the game very well. She understands well in those terms.”
He said it’s going to be a tough road to be ready for today’s final, especially in the heat and playing the extra match time. But with both teams being from SoCal, they know each other well.
“It’s going to be a hard game either way. I think my girls are super motivated to make a mark and make a name for themselves,” Ocampo said.
But he believes this club can be the one to set the tone for success for years to come.
“They had a goal in mind, which is to win a national title, and they’re 80 minutes from it,” Ocampo said. “I think we’re going to rest, relax mentally and physically, and regroup.”