ECNL BOYS NATIONAL PLAYOFFS DAY 4 RECAP: SETTING THE STAGE
Straight from the A
The stakes are always higher whenever there’s a trophy on the line. At the start of the ECNL Boys U18/19 Champions League bracket, the games were played at a high level and the drama was palpable. And as teams have advanced, the stakes have only risen.
So when you’re in the semifinals and there’s a spot in the National Championship game up for grabs, you lay it all on the line. Especially when your opponent is your cross-town rival.
Two of the best teams in the ECNL, the Southeast Conference, and in Atlanta battled it out on the pitch Tuesday when NTH-NASA faced off against UFA in San Diego at the ECNL Boys National Finals for one of the two semifinal matches in the U18/19 age group.
After more than 70 minutes of play, the two rivals had given each other everything they had. Hard tackles, great defending, nutmegs, explosive shots and hustle up and down the pitch; two teams giving maximum effort for every inch of space. But despite that effort, NTH-NASA found themselves trailing in the latter half of the second frame.
Determined to notch the tying goal, NTH-NASA sent the ball into the middle of the pitch more and more, with more bodies around the ball to maintain possession and look for generous shots on net. Forcing the ball into the middle paid dividends, as UFA committed a foul, giving NTH-NASA a free kick in prime real estate.
NTH-NASA left no doubt, burying a shot into the bottom left corner of the net to even the score at 2-2.
That score held until the end of the second half, pushing both teams to PKs.
PKs are already high-stress, even before facing off against your rival. But in the case of NTH-NASA and UFA, it was the only way the game could end.
After big goals and very few mistakes, NTH-NASA stepped up to the spot and put one final shot into the back of the net, knocking off UFA and securing its place in the U18/19 National Championship match against Crossfire Premier Thursday morning.
A Perfect Union
For the first time in league history, the ECNL Boys is also hosting the North American Cup in the U18/19 age group, and Tuesday saw two teams move on to make up the inaugural match.
On one side of the bracket, two West Coast teams faced off as Pateadores and PacNW aimed to make the title match. Pateadores controlled play early and often, punching their ticket to the North American Cup final in convincing fashion.
Meanwhile, on the other side, VA Union and Concorde Fire Platinum were in a rock fight.
Both sides challenged their opponents in new ways, looking for any opportunity to break through. The two teams did eventually put one into each other’s net, but at the end of 90 minutes, the score was tied 1-1, forcing the two teams to head to PKs.
In the shootout, it was VA Union who advanced, drilling the final shot into the top right corner after a stutter-step to freeze the keeper.
Pateadores and VA Union will now meet on the pitch Thursday morning, with one coming home with the North American Cup.