ECNL BOYS NATIONAL PLAYOFFS DAY 6: BAND OF BROTHERS
It’s one thing to win a championship with your teammates who you call your brothers. But it’s extra special when one of those teammates is your actual brother.
From the opening whistle, both teams knew it was going to be a war of attrition in the midfield, having to battle for every inch and every chance for a scoring opportunity. Through the first 20 minutes, San Diego Surf seemed to tilt the field in their momentum, but defensive stops allowed Charlotte to regain control and start to generate looks of their own.
“I thought we were a bit nervy to start, which is understandable,” said Head Coach Jeff Bilyk. “Big game, big moment and we started the game a little uneasy. And super proud of how they responded after the start.”
The chess match in the midfield continued and it appeared the match was destined for a 0-0 halftime score until fortune shined on Charlotte.
Logan Gilley held the ball along the right touch line inside the attacking third when he burst past a defender and cut into the box. He made a cheeky touch pass to brother Chase, ready to receive the ball at the near post. With a quick flick, Chase snuck a shot between the post and the goalkeeper, giving Independence a 1-0 lead just before halftime.
Gilley’s goal flipped a switch in the match, as when the second half began, both sides abandoned the slog in the midfield for trading scoring chance after scoring chance. Surf, determined to tie the game, pushed numbers forward and created multiple corner kicks, but each time, the ball failed to find the back of the net.
As the half wound down and Surf continued to come at Charlotte in waves, Independence started sitting deeper and deeper, keeping numbers back to weather the storm. And as the minutes ticked off and Surf became more and more desperate, Charlotte continued to answer the bell.
“We knew how good of a team Surf is and we knew it was going to take a heck of a defensive effort,” Bilyk said. “We’ve been in games like this where we battle, we scrap, we block shots and do anything and everything we can. And once we got the goal, we knew it was going to take all of that to win the championship.”
After 90 incredibly hard-fought minutes, the final whistle blew and Charlotte Independence were champions.
“Super excited for the players, for the staff and for the families,” Bilyk said. “This has been a special group that’s been building since they were U15s. So this win was a culmination of a lot of years of work and effort. There’s a little bit of relief but also complete joy and I’m super proud of the players for all they’ve accomplished throughout their years at the club.”
Rushing the field together, the Independence celebrated, locking arms and cheering, reaching the pinnacle of their youth soccer careers together.
“You just feel really proud and excited for them, because they deserve everything that they get,” Bilyk said. “As I’m handing them their medals and seeing them lift the trophy, I’m thinking to myself about all we’ve accomplished together and how well they’ve represented themselves and our club, not just today but throughout the years.”
To view the complete scores and schedules for the ECNL Boys National Playoffs, click here.