ECNL BOYS NATIONAL FINALS DAY 3: SETTING THE STAGE
Saturday featured the semifinals for the U14, U16 and U17 age groups, setting the stage for the National Championship matches in the coming days. Each match featured exciting soccer and brilliant gameplay, with deserving squads moving on.
Below is a breakdown of every semifinal match today and a look at the title matches upcoming.
San Diego SC advances
San Diego SC may not have had a majority of the possession in the team’s match against Florida Premier, but the team was extremely opportunistic, scoring in bunches multiple times in the game to cruise to a win.
From the opening whistle, Florida Premier applied pressure, with the San Diego SC backline weathering the storm and thwarting all scoring chances. Up until the first water break, it was all Florida Premier, but that quickly flipped after the break.
Within a three-minute span, San Diego SC potted two goals, turning the 0-0 tie into a 2-0 lead. San Diego SC stole the ball just outside the 18-yard box and after a quick flick into the middle, SDSC buried the shot to take a 1-0 lead. Then immediately after the restart, San Diego regained possession, marched down the field, and put another shot into the back of the net for the score.
That score held all the way until the first water break of the second half, when San Diego SC once again scored right before and right after the hydration restart, scoring two goals in a three-minute span.
San Diego SC’s ability to score in bunches and do so surrounding stoppages in play allowed the team to sit back and wait for their chances, and then pounce when they became available. The result: a spot in the National Championship game.
“To have the opportunity to play in the Final, it’s something we’ve all looked forward to,” said Brian Quinn, San Diego SC Head Coach. “I think the final score was deceptive of the actual game because Florida Premier had some great chances in the first 10 minutes. We could have been down one, two goals after that. They were very tough to play against, we were just fortunate enough to get some breaks.”
Crossfire Premier advances
Crossfire Premier and Arlington Soccer competed in a back-and-forth affair, one where it was just one play that separated the winners from the losers.
Arlington opened up the contest by establishing its game plan, generating possession and scoring chances in the attacking third right out of the gate. Eventually, the team got the first dangerous look of the game with a free-kick from 25 yards out.
But as the game progressed, Crossfire Premier started to flip the field in its favor, and eventually, the Seattle team broke through. A low cross from the left side beat the goalkeeper and the first defender, and a Crossfire Premier forward was at the back post, ready for the tap-in.
Arlington pulled level just minutes later, carving inside the box and finishing a shot from the right post to bring the score to 1-1. The team continued to push even after the equalizer, knocking on the door and searching to take the lead.
The score was tied 1-1 at halftime, and at the beginning of the second half, both squads continued to trade scoring chances. However, midway through the half, confusion inside the box resulted in the ball finding the back of Arlington’s net, putting Crossfire Premier ahead 2-1.
With the lead in hand, Crossfire Premier continued to apply pressure, not allowing Arlington to build up an attack to equalize, and at the final whistle, Crossfire Premier booked its spot in the National Championship game.
“The guys have worked really hard for this, so it was great to get the win today and have the opportunity to play in a big game here on this stage,” said Tony Leatherman, Crossfire Premier Head Coach. “A lot of this group has been together since they were six or seven years old, so this chance has been a long time coming. They’re really close-knit, they’ve worked hard and for them to come through everything without losing a game and be one win away from a championship, it’s fantastic.”
Dallas Texans advances
In one of the highest anticipated matches of the National Finals, Dallas Texans squared off against San Diego Surf with a spot in the National Final on the line.
For 90 minutes, both squads gave it everything they had. For the first 30 minutes, the two sides felt each other out and played a chess match in the midfield, flipping possession while eliminating any scoring chance before it could fully develop. But in the final 15 minutes, Dallas Texans threatened, getting the contest’s first legitimate scoring chances, but Surf managed to keep the ball out of the net.
In the second half, both sides surged for the game’s first tally, but neither side managed to get the ball across the line. Surf came out of the half and kept the ball in their attacking third, but much like the first half, as the second frame wound down, Dallas imposed their will and seemed destined for a goal, but Surf’s defense kept the ball out of the net.
Following 90 minutes of completely even soccer, Dallas Texans and San Diego Surf went to penalty kicks.
In kicks, Dallas Texans converted all four of its shots, while also making one save and Surf missing another shot, pushing the Texas squad into the National Championship match.
“We’ve worked all year for this and it feels amazing to be in this position,” said Dallas Texas captain Hagen Waesch. “We just waited for our chance to come. It didn’t come during regulation, so we had to make the most of it in penalties. That’s where we clutched up and got the dub. It’s going to be a great game on Monday and we can’t wait.”
Following in the footsteps of its younger squad, the U16 CESA squad earned a 1-0 win against Wilmington Hammerheads to move on to the National Championship match.
The lone goal of the contest came late in the first half on a fantastic run by CESA. Sprinting down the right wing, Codrin Robu fought off three separate tackles by Wilmington, and then calmly put a finish to the back post to give his side a 1-0 lead.
Following the goal, Wilmington pressured the CESA back line in both halves, but couldn’t get a good look on net. But then, as the second half wound down, the Hammerheads put two great shots on net, but both times, the CESA keeper stood tall.
In the end, the fortunate and deliberate play from CESA allowed them to capitalize when needed, and the stingy defense kept them in the lead, as they advanced to the National Championship match when the final whistle blew.
“It was a very hotly contested game,” said Russell Shelley, CESA Head Coach. “We defended very well for long stretches of the game. For a small-market club like us, to now have two teams in the national championship, it’s hard to appreciate the magnitude of it right now. If one of our two teams win this championship, that would be the first time in our club’s history. These next two games, it’s going to be huge for our club.”
Eclipse Select advances
Eclipse Select dug deep and potted two second-half tallies to defeat Pateadores and move on to the U17 National Championship.
In the opening 45 minutes against Pateadores, both clubs spent a majority of their time in the midfield, battling for loose balls and fighting for space against tough backlines. Pateadores opened the game with the majority of the chances, forcing the Eclipse Select goalkeeper to make big saves, but as the half wore down, possession and scoring chances were near 50 percent a piece.
But it was at halftime where Eclipse Select made the necessary adjustments to earn a victory.
“We usually play a 4-4-2 with a fake 9,” said Cleo Huitron, Eclipse Select Head Coach. “So we had to make the adjustment, to play with a defensive mid and two attacking mids to have more pressure up top. Pateadores did a great job of keeping the ball on the back line, so we had to keep pressuring it and open it up. ”
That formation proved to be key, as Eclipse started to impose their will. And immediately after the first water break, the team got on the board. With a corner from the left side, the service entered the box, where the ball bounced around between both sides. Eventually, Eclipse picked up the loose ball and buried a shot to take a 1-0 lead.
Desperate for an equalizer, Pateadores pressed and pushed numbers forward, testing the back line. Eventually, that pressure was rewarded with a free kick just outside the 18-yard box. Pateadores put a pass toward the far post, where the ball found a head, knocking it into the back of the net to tie the game with just minutes left.
It seemed as if the game was destined for penalties, but Eclipse made sure it would not reach the shootout. Earning another corner from the left side, Eclipse scored a header of their own, as Colin Bastianoni directed the pass into the net for the game-winner in extra time.
“We’re not a very tall team, so we normally don’t practice those set pieces,” Huitron said. “But our players stepped up and we’re one game away from a title. I’m very proud and attached to these kids, because I’ve been coaching some of them since they were five years old. We started together and have gone up the ranks together. So to be here at this level with these guys, it’s amazing. And it’s going to mean the world to them to be able to compete on Monday.”
San Diego Surf advances
Facing off against the Dallas Texans in arguably the best match of the day, the two sides met up for an instant classic that featured multiple goals, a red card and penalty kicks.
Early on in the match, Texans took a 1-0 lead, catching Surf on its back foot. Capitalizing on a giveaway, Texans ripped a low shot on net that beat the keeper for the early lead. But after allowing the goal, Surf started to create meaningful chances, earning corners and free-kicks through its possession-based play. But each time, the Texans defense came through, keeping the score at 1-0 as it entered halftime.
But nearly 10 minutes after the halftime break, San Diego broke through, knocking a snap-header to pull even at 1-1.
Not content with just being tied, San Diego Surf continued to barrage Dallas’ backline. Then, the team caught a break when, after a hard challenge, Dallas received a red card, giving them 10 men for the rest of the match.
Sensing a chance to pull ahead, in the dying minutes of the game, Surf converted once again, finding the back of the net for the 2-1 lead.
But Dallas wasn’t done fighting just yet. Down a man, in extra time, the team dug deep and found an equalizer via a header, forcing kicks in the 2-2 contest.
In penalty kicks for the ages, Surf and Texans went through a 10-round penalty shootout, which featured big saves and even bigger goals. San Diego’s Anthony Anderson made two big saves, the last coming in the 10th round. With his team electing to kick second, Anderson proceeded to step up to the spot after making his save with the game on the line. He left no doubt, converting his PK and sending his team to the National Championship game.
“We’ve worked hard the whole season to be here,” Anderson said. “It’s rewarding to finally be in this position. It was a really close game, back and forth, and it was exciting to be in that moment. At the end of the day, I just put my head down and stayed confident that I could make my saves and score my goal. We’re so excited to finally go through to the finals, it’s a happy moment.”
“For them to be rewarded for this opportunity is awesome,” added Benoit David, San Diego Surf Head Coach. “I’m proud of the boys and I’m proud of our club. We’re continuing a vision that we put in place seven years ago and now it feels like a reward for that vision and commitment. This is just another step in the journey. We’ve been waiting 10, 15 years for a moment like this, so I think it’s our time. Now we just have to go do it.”
To view ECNL Boys National Finals scores, schedules and more, click here.