ECNL BOYS NATIONAL PLAYOFFS DAY 5: SETTING THE STAGE
Turning Lemons Into Lemonade
Nicholas Atkinson wasn’t even supposed to be here.
The defender for the San Diego SC U13 team was supposed to catch a plane Tuesday night. However, due to weather, his flight was canceled. Now flying out on Thursday, Atkinson had the chance to play one more game with his club, competing in the U13 semifinals against Seattle United.
He made it count.
San Diego jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first half, counterattacking Seattle’s pressure to generate scoring chances. Seattle nearly cut San Diego’s lead to 2-1 before halftime, but they could not convert.
Coming out of the break, the two teams continued to engage in the midfield before Seattle was finally able to break through. Nicky Thesenvitz found open space at the top of the box and rifled a shot past the San Diego goalkeeper, bringing the score to 2-1.
Seattle was then able to knot the score at 2-2, thanks to quality set-piece play. Jordy Dierks led the United attack and sprang himself for a quality scoring look. San Diego’s keeper charged out of the net and brought down the forward just outside the box, setting up a close-range free-kick.
On the free-kick, the shot went into the wall, but Seattle was awarded a penalty after San Diego was whistled for a handball in the box. Dierks stepped up to the spot and smashed a shot into the top right corner to bring the game even.
Then just minutes later, Atkinson and San Diego were able to pull ahead once more, this time for good.
Coming off the heels of the converted penalty kick, San Diego was awarded a goal kick. San Diego’s centerback Garrett Windle served it down the left wing, allowing forward Cole Coughlin to run onto the ball. A Seattle defender attempted to shield the ball away from the San Diego attacker and allow his goalkeeper to pick up the ball.
Sensing an opportunity, Atkinson pounced.
Atkinson rushed towards the loose ball, dodging the shielding defender. He poked the ball away from the lunging goalkeeper and buried a shot into the wide-open net, giving his team a 3-2 lead midway through the second half.
Atkinson’s goal proved to be the game-winner, sending his team to the National Championship match.
“When it comes down to the best four teams in the country, you just have to play your game,” said Head Coach Gerson Villela. “Every detail counts. Every second of the game counts. The boys did well and ended up beating an awesome team. It was a great win.”
Utah Avalanche’s U13 team had a perfect regular season; finishing their conference campaign 9-0-0 and first in the Mountain Conference.
The team brought that momentum into the Boys ECNL National Playoffs, knocking off Pipeline SC and Florida Kraze in its first two games of the tournament. Wednesday morning, the team faced off against MVLA, hoping to maintain its perfect record and secure a spot in the National Championship contest.
For the opening minutes of the contest, both sides were feeling each other out. Utah was able to string together impressive passing sequences, but the MVLA defense was eventually able to intercept and break up those connections and mount counterattacks in transition. It wasn’t until the 20th minute that a team finally found the back of the net.
Utah had possession in the attacking third, methodically moving the ball into the middle of the field. Then, from 20 yards out, forward Christian Sanchez rocketed a shot into the upper corner to take a 1-0 lead.
MVLA responded in the 36th minute to bring the game level at 1-1. The MVLA offense took a shot from the top of the box that deflected off an Avalanche defender just enough to get past the goalkeeper for the score.
In order to maintain its perfect season, Utah would need to find at least one more in the second half.
Early in the second half, Utah had its chance. The team earned a penalty kick and Sanchez walked up to take the shot. He ran forward and knocked the ball waste height, past the diving keeper for his second of the contest and to give the Avalanche a 2-1 lead.
As the minutes wound down, MVLA added more and more pressure, searching for another tying goal, but one would not be found. The Utah Avalanche, who only allowed three goals all regular season, continued their stingy play and shut the door, solidifying the 2-1 lead.
Utah is now on the precipice of a national title and an undefeated season.
But they’ll need one more win to do it.
“I thought from the beginning we were very dominant,” said Coach Nathan Murphy. “The other team tied it up right before halftime because I thought we lost a little bit of composure. After we scored again, they controlled play for the last 10-15 minutes and we hung on.”
To view the complete scores and schedules for the ECNL Boys National Playoffs, click here.