The 2017 ECNL Playoffs were held in Rockford, IL from June 23 - 27, bringing together the top players, teams, and clubs in American girls youth soccer. FC Wisconsin's U16 team qualified for the ECNL Showcase Cup, and shined in their 3 games under the bright lights of college recruiting and high level competition.
In the first game of the 16-team knock-out competition, FC Wisconsin faced Arizona club Sereno SC. Excited to be playing in the Midwest for the first time at an ECNL National Event, the players started brightly, dominating possession and creating numerous chances. Taking up an aggressive attacking shape, the team created space and overloads all over the field, and were able to get nearly 8 players into the attack on a consistent basis.
Emma Jaskaniec and Rachel Dallet were active up front, and combined effectively with Abi Santana, Sierra Barho, and Maddie Tabor in midfield. Jaskaneic and Dallet's work was rewarded with a goal each - one in the first half and one in the second. Nicole Norfolk and Emily Ehlert were fantastic from the back, playing confident, incisive passes that initiated attack after attack. Amara Thompkins was also a big factor from defensive midfield, effectively switching play and functioning as an anchor to set play in the attacking half. The final score ended 2-0 for FC Wisconsin, a great result but not quite showing the quality of play and dominance in the game.
In the quarterfinals, FC Wisconsin matched up against Ohio powerhouse Internationals SC from Cleveland. With another bright start, FC Wisconsin took a 2-0 lead in the first half, even while playing into a strong wind. The first goal came in the 20th minute off a Jaskaniec penalty, set-up by a great three player combination between Jaskaniec, Santana, and Aryssa Mahrt. The lead was doubled 15 minutes later, as Maddie Tabor served a great ball for Rachel Dallet to finish with aplomb. For video of the two goals, click here. With what seemed a comfortable lead reflecting, and going with the wind in the second half, the game seemed secure. Unfortunately, Internationals came back with a vengeance in the second half, scoring on two perfectly executed counter-attacks in the 55th and 62 minute to equalize the game. Showing new courage and determination, the U16s continued to play the same style and continued to open up the defense and create chances. This faith was finally rewarded 2 minutes from the final whistle when Aryssa Mahrt scored the game-winner on a nice individual run - beating 2 players and the goalkeeper. Overall, in a well-deserved result, Santana dominated the game from the number 10 position, and Dallet and Jaskaniec were more than the Ohio outfit could handle.
Though conceding two goals in the match, the quality of attacking play was impressive from the entire group. Goalkeeper Gina Muzi played a big role in initiating the attack and maintaining possession - consistently finding the open player in the back four or midfield. Her ability to play diagonal balls to the outside backs, and confidence to pass into midfield, prevented Internationals' pressure on the back line from recovering possession dozens of times in the game. The confident shape of the back four - often stretching nearly 60 yards in width in possession also made it difficult for Internationals to find a pressure cue.
After a rest day on June 25, FC Wisconsin faced Colorado Storm in the Showcase Cup semi-finals. The game was one of two halves, greatly impacted by a strong wind, fatigued legs, and pressure to advance. FC Wisconsin thoroughly dominated the first 40 minutes, creating a bevy of chances but spurning them all. The second half saw the game reverse, with Storm taking the upper hand. After 80 scoreless minutes, the game went to penalties, were Colorado Storm advanced 5-4.
"We have spent the past 18 months building a new style of play across all of our teams, reflecting the growth and improvement of our players over the past few years," said Director Christian Lavers. "It was really exciting and rewarding to see the U16s execute that style so effectively this weekend. They were confident in their ability to maintain possession, and consistently found the extra player to break pressure."
"The quality of play from the U16s this weekend was at times quite impressive," said Youth Director Andy Lee. "The backs were determined to play forward and break lines in possession, the midfield was active and found pockets of space wherever they were, and the forwards combined well with each other to get in behind. If they can continue to build on this foundation, and add to it the tenacity in the box which they started to show this weekend, the 2017-18 season will be exciting."
Just as important as the quality of their play, the U16s were scouted by more than 60 colleges from all over the country in their 3 games. The following schools attended at least one game of the team in Rockford: Virginia Tech, Troy University, University of Dayton, Iowa State, University of Tampa, Grand Valley State, Valparaiso, Colorado State, St. Mary's (CA), Bowling Green, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Tennessee, Wyoming, Creighton, Brown, Ball State, Xavier, North Dakota, Illinois State, South Dakota State, San Francisco, Arizona State, Drake, Notre Dame, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, Towson, Eastern Kentucky, Oklahoma, Loyola (IL), Colorado College, Iowa, UC Davis, Eastern Illinois, Northern Illinois, Detroit, Southeast Missouri State, George Washington, Florida Gulf Coast, Baylor, Indiana, Kansas State, Air Force, Marquette, Utah, New Hampshire, Brown, Eastern Carolina, Northwestern, Western Michigan, UW-Whitewater, Bucknell, UW-Stevens Point, and Northern Illinois
FC Wisconsin's ECNL teams will begin their pre-season training for the 2017-18 season in early August.