ECNL U-17: CASL Chelsea one step away from second consecutive championship
By Jimmy LaRoue
Waukegan, Ill.–CASL Chelsea Ladies are one step away from winning a second-consecutive ECNL championship, as they overpowered Dallas Sting 5-0 Friday in the Under-17 national semifinals at Waukegan Sports Park.
Alexis Shaffer scored CASL’s first two goals in the win, while Joanna Boyles, Alexis Degler and Paige Reckert added single goals for the winners. CASL will face Michigan Hawks in the final.
“This is definitely our biggest rival, so we always come out pumped, hard, ready to play,” Shaffer said of Sting. “So today we came out with full energy, ready to go and just tried to compete and win, which is what we did today.”
Shaffer’s second was a backbreaker for Sting, as she got on the end of a pass from Boyles after a brief scramble in the box and slammed home a shot from six yards.
“Really, after our second goal, the game kind of changed,” said CASL coach Damon Nahas, who also serves as the Under-15 Girls National Team coach. “I think you could see where it was going after that. I think that goal just kind of shook them a little bit.”
But CASL didn’t take their lead for granted, and soon proved they had more in them.
Taking advantage of a defensive miscue, Boyles snared an errant backpass to score CASL’s third goal of the day, and later in the second half, Degler and Reckert tallied goals to round out the scoring.
Though the dynamic of the two teams have changed over the years, Nahas can always count on them being a difficult team to face.
“We wanted to impose ourselves,” Nahas said. “We wanted to maintain possession, we wanted to be aggressive with the ball. We wanted to press them defensively, play off our forwards and maintain possession in the middle of the field, try to keep our width and win our 50/50 challenges. The girls really committed themselves to it.”
Shaffer said as much, too.
“We knew that there was a lot of pressure, so we tried to play through the middle,” Shaffer said. “So me and my two other midfielders, they tried to play through us, which we would find our center forward or outside wingers, so we mostly tried to play through and get attacking.”
Shaffer’s first goal allowed CASL to settle into the game and relax, and the cooler weather earlier in the day, with a front passing through, didn’t hurt.
“You just saw a different life and a different glow in the kids’ eyes, and on the third day in the semifinal of a national championship, I couldn’t have asked for better conditions,” Nahas said. “I definitely think it helped us. Some of our legs were tired.”
But with the depth of the team, Nahas gets key contributions across the roster.
“We are extremely deep,” Nahas said. “We know at any moment, we just want everybody to be prepared to make an impact, and when your moment is there, just be prepared for it. [Friday] was an example of that.”
CASL has yet to give up a goal in three matches in Waukegan, winning by a combined 10-0., while Hawks have outscored opponents in three wins, 12-3. In a tough conference, CASL finished on top in the Southeast with a 13-0-4 and a 15-2-2 record in Flight A. In the Midwest Conference, Hawks finished the regular season in 3rd place in the Midwest with a 12-3-2 record and was 7-4-6 in Flight A and nearly missed out on the playoffs altogether.
Nahas is wary of Hawks’ depth of talent, especially as national teamer Summer Green, in top form, figures to be a threat in the final. Green scored in the Hawks’ 3-0 win over PDA, along with two others from Madison Lewis.
“Summer and Madi are just playing at a different level right now,” coach Doug Landefeld told The Soccer Wire’s Charles Boehm afterwards, a sentiment that Slammers coach Ziad Khoury readily shared despite his disappointment with the result.”They’re good buddies, and Madi is running really well off the ball. And Summer is not a selfish kid by any means, she loves to score goals, but she understands the amount of attention she’s going to get and is willing to play the ball and keep the ball moving.”
But with players like Boyles, Degler, Reckert and others, CASL is ready to bring another ECNL championship to the Tar Heel state.
“We’ve had a couple of battles with them,” Nahas said of Michigan Hawks. “They have some special, special players, and we’re going to have our hands full, but we’re excited about that too.”
Shaffer said it has been the team’s goal to win a national championship.
“This is what we wanted again his year, so we’re just coming back and trying to finish it out again,” Shaffer said. “We know we have a major target on our backs, since we won it last year, so we come out strong, prepared and ready because every team is after it to get us.
Whether intentional or not, CASL’s win was a statement game.
“I think it does make a statement because we came out hard and scored five goals … so I think it gives us a little bit of a push and edge to it,” Shaffer said. “But we still have to come out strong and hard, and ready to play.”