ECNL ST. LOUIS DAY 1: VETERAN LEADERSHIP
On Friday night, the stars of the ECNL Boys took the field in the Continental Tire ECNL National Selection Game at World Wide Technology Soccer Park to cap off the opening day of ECNL St. Louis.
Soccer Park has a tremendous history and has hosted many big games, including FIFA World Cup Qualifiers and Summer Olympic Qualifiers for the United States Men’s National Team.
Midway through the opening half, the East jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Eli Langford (Oklahoma Energy FC) put a shot on target that created a huge rebound opportunity that was put in by Milton Lopez (Dallas Texans Academy).
Both sides played a back-and-forth game throughout much of the opening 45 minutes, and it was not long before the West answered with a goal of their own.
In the 39th minute, Edward Garcia (FC Dallas) was able to gain a slight amount of separation from the defense and unleash a rocket from just outside the top of the box that found the back of the net and knotted things up at a goal apiece.
The East were given a golden opportunity to close out the first half after being awarded a penalty right before halftime, but the shot sailed wide of the left post, and the game remained tied going into the break.
Coming out of the halftime break, the East saw two great scoring opportunities in the opening minutes of the second half, but goalkeeper Daniel Wozniak (KC Scott Gallagher) made two tremendous saves to keep the game even.
In the 54th minute, Garcia found his name on the scoresheet again. After making an excellent run through the midfield, Garcia worked his way around the goalkeeper and finished from a sharp angle to put the West on top 2-1.
It did not take the East long to find their answer though. On the counterattack, Maguire Perkins (Gretna Elite Academy) received a pass in the box and was able to put it away in the bottom left corner to level the score up again, this time at 2-2.
The East nearly went on to grab the lead from a set piece, but after a beautifully delivered ball in the box and almost perfectly placed headed effort, the West was saved by the right post of their goal and the game remained tied.
Just moments later, Garcia continued his heroic performance, playing a long ball perfectly into the box at the feet of Andrew Heckenlaible (VSA Rush). Heckenlaible took a great touch, worked his way past the defense, and finished with a crafty chip over the keeper to score the winning goal for the West team and give them a 3-2 victory.
After his goal, Heckenlaible ran to the corner flag and did his own impersonation of one of the signature celebrations that has been seen at the World Cup this month, the Waddle, made famous by Jaylen Waddle of the Miami Dolphins and Achraf Hakimi of Morocco.
“Shoutout Hakimi,” Heckenlaible said after the game. “What a run from Morocco.”
Both Heckenlaible and Garcia noted after the game that they had played together last year in the National Selection Game in Texas and believed that experience helped with a lot of the nerves that naturally come with playing in such a big event.
“We came in strong,” Garcia said. “I think it was a good game with a bunch of pressure against us, but we started touching the ball and moving side to side, so we got the goals and the win as well.”
“I think we played well as a team,” Heckenlaible said. “We found their weaknesses and exposed that while playing to our strengths, and I think overall it was just a good game.”