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ECNL Oct 01, 2012

Upsets highlight day two of ECNL National Event: Phoenix

By Charles Boehm

PHOENIX – The Elite Clubs National League offered up a reminder of its capacity to surprise on Sunday, as several of the nation’s top teams were ambushed by lesser-known opposition on the second day of the league’s first national event of the 2012-13 season.

In fairness, it is risky to use the term “upset” with any amount of regularity when it comes to ECNL, given how efficiently the four-year-old league has been able to draw the nation’s leading girls’ soccer talent. Yet the reactions of players and coaches themselves convey the scope of unexpected results like Concorde (Ga.) Fire’s 5-3 defeat of Eclipse Select SC (Ill.) in Under-18 play on Sunday afternoon.

“That’s a great result for us against an unbelievably good club and good team, a well-coached group,” said Concorde coach Brian Moore, whose team achieved the win despite the absence of stars Jane Campbell and Toni Payne, starters on the U.S. U-17 Women’s National Team which just exited the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. “We were a little surprised, and fortunate – we certainly know that next time we play them we’re going to have a war.”

A founding member of ECNL, Eclipse are widely respected around the nation and the Chicago-area club’s teams earned victories in all four age groups (U-15 through U-18) on Saturday. Their U-18s have earned a long list of accomplishments and most of the squad will play top-level NCAA soccer next year.

Yet they found themselves down 4-0 at halftime against their opponents from Georgia as two set-piece goals, combined with Moore’s tactical tweaks, earned Concorde a stunning advantage. Another strike just after the break ran the advantage to 5-0 before a furious Eclipse comeback closed the gap, but ran out of time as commanding center back Corinne Wooten led the Fire’s resistance after scoring a rare goal in the first half.

“We played a box midfield in the first half, 4-4-2 [formation], and kept my forwards kind of wide to keep [Eclipse’s] outside backs from coming forward. We know that they’re very talented at that,” explained Moore. “We wanted to make their center backs the playmakers, and we were able to dispossess them in certain places and counter, and did a good job with it. And then late in the game, we had to go to a 4-5-1, then 5-4-1 and hang on for dear life.”

Hurricane U-16s knock off Slammers

Another surprise unfolded at U-16 level, where Slammers FC, the powerful Southern California outfit which won the title of “ECNL Overall Club Champion” last season, were knocked off 2-1 by Oklahoma side TSC Hurricane. Tatum Wagner struck on two counterattack goals as the diminutive Ainsly Wolfinbarger lit up the midfield with her skill, trickery and vision, and the Hurricane back line weathered long stretches of heavy pressure.

“Our defense did a good job of getting organized after the first 10 minutes,” said TSC coach Kevin King. “We were really under a lot of pressure. Obviously [Slammers] are very good and they had a great game plan. Once we got organized, our counter was effective…[We were] pulling back our pressure line and trying to counter, rather than trying to chase the ball.”

King arranged his team in a 3-5-2 shape rarely seen at this level – “We really struggle in the middle, so we have to add a player,” he noted– and the extra support set the stage for Wolfinbarger, a native of Broken Arrow, Okla. who is being heavily courted by NCAA programs, to shine.

“She’s getting a lot of looks from colleges, because she’s a playmaker,” said King. “She loves to run at the defenses and she’s so crafty in tight spaces that she causes defenses a lot of problems. She’s just so low to the ground, too.”

Sting U-17s held by Atlanta Fire United

Elsewhere, Dallas Sting U-17s, last year’s ECNL national championship finalists, were frustrated by Atlanta Fire United in a noteworthy 2-2 draw. AFU lost badly to San Diego Surf in their first game of the weekend, a 6-0 loss that coach Mark MacKain called a “drubbing,” but responded bravely against their feared opponents from North Texas, who are coached by former indoor soccer star Antonio Pecorari, better known as Tatu.

“The team met, we had some words, they got themselves straight,” said MacKain. “And what I’m most proud of is that 11 individuals come together as a team, as opposed to being the individuals looking at [college] coaches that are out here for scholarships.

“And when your 11 come together, results come. Tatu has got a fantastic squad with the Sting, and I’m as proud of my kids as I can be.”

The ECNL National Event: Phoenix wraps up with another round of games on Monday morning.

[ +Visit the ECNL National Event: Phoenix home page for more information ]

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