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ECNL Jun 26, 2012

ECNL U-15: Washington Premier advances to Flight B final

By Jimmy LaRoue

Waukegan, Ill.–Washington Premier’s Under-15 squad may have been more unheralded than some other teams coming into the 2012 ECNL National Finals, but that probably won’t be the case for long.

After the U-15 Flight B side handily defeated Penn Fusion SA 6-0 Sunday in its opening game at the ECNL National Finals, Washington Premier was prolific again Monday, defeating Vardar 4-1 to advance to the championship game of the U-15 B Flight’s Top 8 group against Minnesota Thunder Academy, who advanced to the final over Sereno Soccer Club 3-2 in penalty kicks after playing to a 1-1 tie through regulation and overtime.

Kelcie Hedge tallied a brace in the first 10 minutes of the game, giving Washington Premier its second straight strong start to a match, after the second-place Northwest Conference side seized two goals in the first five minutes Sunday.

“To go up two-nothing in the first 10 minutes was a good start for us, and that set us off,” said Washington Premier coach Seth Spidahl.

After giving up a goal to see its lead cut to 2-1, Washington Premier got back-to-back goals from Lyrik Fryer and Jordyn Bartelson in the space of five minutes to seal the match.

With the breezy conditions at the Waukegan SportsPark, Spidahl wanted to attack against the wind to hopefully wear down Vardar, which finished second to Eclipse Select in the Midwest Conference at 13-2-2 and was first in National Flight B with a 13-0-1 record.

In its first season in the ECNL, Washington Premier carved out an 8-2-4 conference record, and a 9-1-4 record in the National B Flight standings to finish fifth. The club had come off a U.S. Club Soccer National Championship last summer, giving the team some confidence that it could be good at a national level.

“The West Coast is tough because you’re playing a lot of [Southern California] teams: [SoCal] Blues, Slammers, Mustang,” Spidahl said. “We’ve really just grown and added some players over the course of the year.”

He still wants to see the team keep the ball more and become more possession-based. With stronger attacking players, he wants to get the ball to them at their feet, though he said they’re stout defensively too, led by center back Jessica Udovich and goalkeeper Lauren Mercuri. Still, Spidahl has a capable group.

“This is going to be a good team, and while we’re not going to surprise everybody, I think we’re a little bit under the radar,” Spidahl said. “It’s a team that can compete with a lot of teams in the country.”

Under the previous playoff format, Washington Premier would have been playing solely for placement.

However, with the change in playoff format to have the top eight Flight B teams playing for their own national championship, Spidahl said he welcomed the opportunity.

“We love it, because we were fifth,” Spidahl said. “We were thinking we were coming here just to play some showcase games, and all of a sudden they decided to include the top eight.

“We’ve been working all year to finish in that top four, to win that B National Championship, so when they put it to eight, I was happy. We’re excited to be able to come here, because you always want to compete for something, not just play games. It was a good change.”

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