ECNL BOYS NATIONAL FINALS DAY 5: WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS
Monday morning, the ECNL crowned its final two National Championships in a pair of matches that featured incredible battles and high-drama that lasted until the very last second.
Below is a recap of the day’s events, detailing the incredible matches capping off the ECNL’s first-ever Championship weekend.
Right out of the gate, Eclipse took it to San Diego Surf, getting good looks and scoring chances right from the opening whistle. After multiple chances, Eclipse found the back of the net.
In the ninth minute, Surf tried to advance the ball out of their defending third, but Eclipse jumped up to steal the ball. Max Ibarra split the defense and received a throughball, slipping the ball past the diving goalkeeper to give the Chicago side a 1-0 lead.
Eclipse and Surf continued to battle each other following the goal, but as it progressed, Surf started to enjoy a majority of the possession. With set pieces and free kicks, Surf launched balls on net, but each time, the Eclipse backline stood strong.
At halftime, Eclipse led 1-0, and as the second half began, Surf continued to own possession and generate scoring chances. Eclipse was content with waiting for their chances and counterattacking, resulting in plenty of back and forth play in the midfield.
But at the 78-minute mark, Eclipse wrestled the game from Surf and firmly put it in their hands. Captain Colin Bastianoni was clinical with his shot, splitting the defense before knocking the ball into the bottom right corner to put his team ahead 2-0. And then three minutes later, Ibarra scored his second of the game. After dishing a pass to Joel Chavez, Chavez gave it right back to Ibarra with a cheeky back-heel pass. Fighting off a tackle, Ibarra knocked the ball into the net, extending its lead to 3-0.
With the championship firmly in its grasp, Eclipse closed out the game without allowing a goal, earning the first-ever U17 ECNL National Championship at the final whistle.
“It was a very exciting game,” said Cleo Huitron, Eclipse Select Head Coach. “We’ve been here before, but unfortunately on the other side. But we put in the work, and we talked about being here at the beginning of the season. The effort, the character that it took to get here, I’m very proud of the boys. It wasn’t easy. And now we’re champions.”
The atmosphere for the U16 National Championship match between Dallas Texans and CESA was unparalleled, with supporters from both sides doling out boisterous chants over the beat of drums and noisemakers as the two clubs battled it out on the pitch.
Dallas Texans controlled the game for the first part of the opening half, with CESA taking some time to find its rhythm in the match. But once they settled in, the teams traded punches with counterpunches, each getting good looks on net. By the closing minutes of the half, momentum had tilted slightly into CESA’s favor, but the first half ended with a 0-0 score.
Coming out of the half, Texans dictated the pace by executing a high-tempo game plan, putting multiple balls into the box, but CESA continued to keep the ball out of the net. CESA countered with a beautiful curling shot after a short length of possession, continuing the chess match between the two sides.
But in the 66th minute, the deadlock was finally broken. With the ball at his feet, Guy Michaeli unleashed a world-class finish, neatly tucking his shot into the upper corner of the net to give Dallas Texans a 1-0 lead.
“It was a very physical game, and we just had to wait for our chance,” said captain Hagen Waesch. “Luckily with Guy, he took the touch just outside the box and curled it into the net. It was perfect, picture-perfect.”
Using the momentum from the goal, Dallas pressed forward, searching for another to extend its advantage. The CESA defense thwarted these attempts and as the match entered its dying minutes, the South Carolina squad pushed its own numbers into the attacking third, desperate for the equalizer.
But behind a raucous crowd, the Texans denied every CESA scoring chance and at the final whistle, walked off the field as the U16 National Champions.
“The whole year we’ve been waiting for this moment,” Guy Michaeli said. “We rose to the occasion and we won. Couldn’t be more excited.”
To view ECNL Boys National Finals scores, schedules and more, click here.