Soccerwire Q&A: Brent Leiba discusses McLean ECNL U-18s’ promising campaign
McLean Youth Soccer’s Under-18 Elite Clubs National League squad (also known as MPS Fury 95G) find themselves in the hunt for a top spot in the league’s Midatlantic Conference with a 6-1-2 record and a points per game average of 2.22, slightly trailing first-place CASL, who lead the conference at 2.29.
Coach Brent Leiba, who also serves as the head women’s soccer coach at Howard University, recently took time to chat with Soccerwire.com about how things are going for his McLean squad, who have shined through nine league contests so far this season and went 2-1 at last week’s ECNL National Event in Sanford, Fla.
Soccerwire.com: How has the ECNL season been going for you all? How has the team played, what have you liked, what haven’t you liked?
Brent Leiba: We have had a pretty strong start to the year. I have liked that we have been playing at a very high level – in my opinion, a very attractive style of play which has translated into quality results. The main thing I haven’t liked about the season thus far has been our injury situation.
Unfortunately, we have suffered numerous injuries. What’s been most alarming is that a good majority of our players are not even into their high school seasons yet – most of our players high school seasons are in the spring – and still have sustained a good amount of injuries.
SW: What were your expectations entering this season for the team?
BL: I have very high expectations for this group. We had a great run into nationals last year and I expected that momentum to carry over. I think we have the opportunity to do some special things this year.
SW: In regards to the past ECNL seasons, how is this one different?
BL: I think in the past we had played at a relatively high level, but had not always found a way to get the result that I felt was deserved. That is the difference this year – we are now finding ways to reward ourselves for our play.
A couple of reasons for the improvements: another year of experience, certain individuals have improved and developed from last year, and we have made a few additions to our roster that have made an impact on the pitch.
SW: Is there a player who has really made a name for herself in this campaign?
BL: While she has already made a name for herself, Andi Sullivan has helped bring recognition to our program. Andi is an active member with the US national [team] program and was just named the 2013 NSCAA National Youth Player of the Year.
[Editor’s note: Last year Sullivan, a Stanford commit, transferred from Bethesda SC to McLean to be closer to her home in Northern Virginia during a busy season marked by U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team callups. She has played in seven matches for Leiba’s team so far.]
SW: You guys are not far behind CASL but have played fewer games. How do you see it playing out? Do you feel confident you can push ahead of them?
BL: We actually had been leading the Midatlantic Conference. We have played less games and we have some work to do to regain our positioning. With that being said, CASL is well deserving of their current placement and we look forward to battling for the top spot.
SW: What have you learned about your team from ECNL play?
BL: It’s really been a fun year to this point. This group, in my opinion, is playing a very attractive brand of soccer and hopefully we can continue our level of play. Compared to last year, I believe we have learned to be more consistent in our play and mindset.
SW: How would you rate the level of competition in the ECNL?
BL: I believe the ECNL is the landscape for girls youth soccer. The league has a combination of the best clubs and players in the nation, which creates the best training and game environment. It is truly a privilege to participate in the ECNL.