The second ECNL National Event of the year was held in Sanford, FL from January 6-8, 2018, and it featured more colleges than almost any event in youth soccer history. WIth more than 400 different college scouts on-site, the FC Wisconsin U16 and U17 teams had the opportunity to show their quality before almost every school in the country.
The U16s were watched by 90 different colleges over the 3 day event, and the U17s saw almost the same amount of collegiate spectators. Overall, it was an unparalleled opportunity for Wisconsin's best players to take a step towards college.
The teams both had terrific performances, with the U16s going 2-1 and the U17s 1-1-1.
The U16s opened play against South Carolina United from the Southeast Conference, and they showed a determination and commitment to get 3 points from the start. Aryssa Mahrt started the scoring in the 30th minute on a 25-yard blast after using a great scissor move to beat her defender just outside the box. The teams went into the break with the one goal separation, but the second half was all FC Wisconsin. Maggie Starker scored the 2nd only 5 minutes after halftime on a nice turn inside the box. Caitlyn Schilling added a third on a laser into the upper corner from the left side of the penalty box, and Ahnna Faust finished the scoring in the last 5 minutes. Overall, it was a dominant team effort, and the score reflected a very good performance. Emily Ehlert was great breaking up play and starting attacks from defensive midfield, and Jordan Jeffers was up and down the flanks from outside back all game.
The U17s also started hot on day 1 with a match-up against Continental FC from the Northeast Conference. They scored early, capitalizing on a positioning mistake from Continental, when Emma Jaskaniec took advantage of some space between the backs to find the back of the net from 20 yards out. The team added to the lead midway through the second half when Jaskaniec followed up a nice strike from Rachel Dallet to put away the rebound. Peighton Steffen and Nicole Norfolk were rocks at center back and helped insure that Continental never got too dangerous.
Day two of the event saw the U16s face Bethesda SC from Maryland, in what was perhaps the best game of their season. Maggie Starker found her second goal of the event to open the scoring in the 25th minute after a very open, up and down start to the game. Bethesda was not deterred, however, and both teams continued to press high against each other in a physical and fast contest. Bethesda equalized 10 minutes into the second half on a penalty, but the U16s did not drop their heads. Only minutes after conceding, Schilling linked up with Aryssa Mahrt, who was fouled in the box for an answering penalty. Mahrt stepped to the spot and the lead was extended. The final 10 minutes finally saw the game slow down, and the U16s nearly added to the lead a few times. Jadyn Rupnow was a constant menance in midfield throughout the game, and Rylee Sammons and Katrina Patscot put in some crunching tackles to disrupt play at critical moments.
The U17s faced FC Pride from Indianapolis on day 2. While FC Pride is a new club to the ECNL, they showed no fear on this day and continued a bright start to their season. Wisconsin took an early lead, but a series of mistakes allowed FC Pride to equalize cheaply just before hafltime. In the second half, the athleticism and work of FC Pride continually seemed to chip away at the 17s edge, and Pride was rewarded with 2 goals to claim the victory. While not playing well enough to truly earn a win, the nature of the 3 goals conceded left a very bitter taste for the 17s.
On day 3 the Florida temperatures finally returned to normal, and it was the first comfortable day to watch the country's best as they concluded the event across all 20 fields. The U17s fought to a 2-2 draw with East Meadow from New York, scoring late to equalize, and the U16s dropped a heartbreaker to Richmond United 2-0 in a match where every player showed a lot of potential.
"We saw a lot of great things from the players this weekend," said Director Christian Lavers. "The U16s were ferocious and aggressive in their attitude every day, and I think they really saw for the first time what a difference that type of commitment makes. They set a terrific tone, and then were very efficient and stylish in the way they attacked - it was really fun to watch. The U17s were up and down across the 3 days, but we really saw that there is a core group of players on that team that never quit, and who drive forward relentlessly in every circumstance. That group shows what the club is about."
"I really enjoyed watching the quick and sharp play from the U16s each game," said Youth Director Andy Lee. "They showed great composure playing out of high pressure situations, and they showed a new quality of vision and recognition in identifying pressure and space. I am really excited to see where this group goes in the next 12 months, because I think they showed a picture today of a team that can make a mark in the coming years."
"It was great to see the ECNL players execute so many of the ideas that we train and teach the younger players in the club," said FC Wisconsin - Madison Director Jacie Lyon. "Our methodology is consistent across all of the ages, and you could really see that in the way both teams tried to play."
The ECNL program takes a short winter break for the next few weeks before resuming training in late January in preparation for the final regular season ECNL National Event for the club in Houston in February.