ECNL U-17 Championship: CASL Chelsea Ladies win second consecutive national title
By Jimmy LaRoue
Waukegan, Ill.–Two of the most heralded players on the field played major roles for their respective teams, but it was Joanna Boyles’ CASL Chelsea Ladies, rather than Summer Green’s Michigan Hawks, who prevailed with a championship in Saturday’s Under-17 ECNL national final at Waukegan SportsPark.
Boyles and Green play together on the U.S. Under-17 Women’s National Team and will be future teammates at the University of North Carolina, and both were difference-makers in the ECNL final.
After Boyles scored in the first half off an assist from Claire Wagner to put CASL on top, Green broke through with a tying goal. With neither team scoring through the rest of regulation and overtime, CASL was the one coming from behind from the spot, keyed by three Taylor Francis saves, outscoring the Hawks 5-4 in seven rounds of penalties and taking its second consecutive national championship.
Boyles and Wagner both missed their penalties, but Francis made saves in the third, fifth and seventh rounds of penalties, ensuring that Morgan Reid’s successful attempt was the match winner.
“I have so much faith in this team, and Taylor just made three unbelievable saves to save me and Claire’s butt,” Boyles said. “The people that stepped up and made theirs did a great job, and I love this team to death.”
After four games in four days, and going up against a strong Hawks team in the final, CASL coach Damon Nahas said he wanted his team to endure the final, knowing they wouldn’t need any extra motivation to win a second straight championship.
“We wanted to still try and do what we needed to have to do, but we knew that we were going up against a team that liked to play,” Nahas said. “We were going to concede possession at times; we wanted to make the most of it. But today was about, really, strong will and taking advantage of our opportunities, and I feel like they really did the same thing. It could have gone either way, and it just went our way today.”
Boyles opened the scoring in the first half, as co-captain and best friend Wagner served a corner from the left side to the far post. Boyles rose over two defenders and headed the ball into the net for the early 1-0 CASL lead.
“We have done this for forever,” Wagner said. “I’ve always taken the corner; she’s always been in that mix.”
Said Boyles: “She serves such a great ball in.”
“We kind of just have it,” Wagner chimed back.
“It’s like a thing between us,” Boyles said. “She puts it in a space where anything’s possible, and it’s such a great corner that you can’t help but get a head on it. They were marking really tough but the ball was placed perfectly, and I just tried to get up and knock it in.”
CASL went into the match with its eye on Green, and the rest of a dangerous Hawks attack. Wagner and the defensive players held a meeting the night before the final, going over the keys to defending her.
“We went over – we know that she’s there, we know we have to defend her, but we didn’t want to change our game because of her,” Wagner said. “We knew that we had to keep her [in check] and I would switch back and forth so I could keep her on my side, because I knew her tendencies from national camps and stuff like that. I thought we did a pretty good job with her defending. It was difficult.”
While the Hawks were patient in trying to break down CASL Chelsea’s defense, the North Carolina side kept the Hawks outside and did not allow a shot on goal in the first half, and no shots at all inside the 18-yard box.
“We wanted to stay organized and make sure that wherever we channeled them we had numbers going that way,” Nahas said. “All of their players are good players, and they have a couple of main threats on their team that we needed to make sure that we recognized and conceding in areas that we knew weren’t going to be as dangerous. That’s what we wanted to, and it worked for us in the first half.”
At halftime, Hawks coach Doug Landefeld adjusted tactics to free up Green and having his team make more diagonal runs into the box, rather than play balls around the perimeter of the CASL defense.
Hawks began the second half pressuring CASL’s defense, making more probing runs, while Green made her presence felt with a early shot, though it was off target.
Green later showed why the Tar Heels will be eager to get her this fall, thanks to her decision to graduate a full year early, as she took a Madi Green pass up the middle and put a right-footed shot just off the left post past Francis and into the net to tie the match.
The Hawks continued probing CASL’s defense, with Green again testing Francis, forcing a diving, fingertip save from the Hawks netminder late in the second half. Near the end of regulation, Lewis, using the inside of her right foot, fired just high from 12 yards.
Green got off a non-threatening shot in overtime, but neither team could score again, forcing penalties.
Green and Boyles were their respective teams’ first shooters, with Green converting and Boyles hitting hers off the post to give Hawks a 1-0 lead in PKs. Both teams made their second round kicks, with the Hawks’ Kaylee Phillips and CASL’s Alexis Shaffer scoring.
The goalkeepers made saves in the third round, and the Hawks’ Michelle Manning and Christina Gibbons scored again. CASL’s Francis then saved Samantha Maher’s penalty in the fifth round, while Francis’s teammate, Alexis Degler made hers to extend the penalty kick phase.
In the sixth round of penalties the Hawks’ Natalie Krygier and CASL Chelsea’s Caroline Brown made their kicks to keep the penalty kick phase level at 4-4.
Francis, though, gave CASL a chance to win it in the seventh round after saving Jessica Kjellstrom’s attempt to the right corner. Morgan Reid, teammates with Boyles, Wagner and Green on the U-17 national team, then converted her penalty kick to set off a wild CASL celebration and a second-straight championship win.
“Sometimes Taylor doesn’t get enough credit,” Nahas said of his goalkeeper. “Taylor, some games, doesn’t get a lot of chances to make saves. Today she had to come up big. Obviously, everybody sees what happened in the PKs, but she made unbelievable decisions. She saved a couple in the end that could have gone in and you’ve got to have a class keeper and we do.”
And it led to a priceless memory and a second national championship, with many of them having played together for the past eight years.
“It’s unbelievable the connection that each one of us has, the family that we are,” Boyles said. “It’s so special. I mean, you can’t put it into words how unbelievable it is to win this.”
Note: GolTV recorded this match and will air it this Thursday at 8 p.m. EST.