Halloween weekend saw a rare double-header in the ECNL Midwest Conference as Vardar and FC Wisconsin Eclipse faced off on back-to-back days at FC Wisconsin Soccer Park.
After 8 grueling games from U15-U18 over the 2 days, the clubs finished virtually equal in results across the age groups – with the FC Wisconsin Eclipse record at 2 wins, 3 ties, and 3 losses.
With unseasonably cold temperatures and constant and often significant rain for the majority of the day, the conditions were far from ideal on day 1 of the double-header.
The U15s drew the short straw with the early 9 AM kick-off, and the conditions seemed to significantly hinder both teams. After a very even but lackluster first 35 minutes, Vardar scored twice in the waning minutes of the first half on very innocuous plays to take a 2-0 lead into halftime. The second half saw a more spirited affair from both sides, but neither team was able to find the net and the visitors were comfortable in claiming the points. Rachel Dallet was a bright spot for the home team in midfield, and Aryssa Mahrt fought to win possession and create some chances.
The U16s battled gamely against a tough Vardar side, entering the break at 0-0. The second half found the team playing into a strong wind, and too much Vardar quality and a late goal gave them a 3-0 win – a flattering scoreline considering the tightness of the game.
The U17s came out sharply, staking a 1-0 lead in the 5th minute on a corner kick goal from Hannah Compernolle. The team had several more opportunities to double the lead in the first half, but couldn’t find the finishing touch. The second half was once again physical and hotly contested, but the early goal was enough to stand up and allow the hosts to claim all 3 points.
The U18s were dominant in their opening game against the Michigan foes. A free kick goal from Jess Cooley from 25 yards put the home team up 1-0 in the 20th minute and was overdue for the amount of chances created. Vardar’s GK made a few quality saves to keep the game tight, and FC WI Eclipse was wasteful of multiple chances to put the game out of reach. It took until the 70th minute before Ana Portz doubled the lead on a great headed goal from a corner. What looked to be a comfortable final 20 minutes however got more difficult when a mental mistake resulted in Vardar clawing a goal back totally against the run of play, but the U18s held on for all the points.
When you want weather to change in the Midwest, simply wait 20 minutes … or 1 day. November 1 saw a totally different climate – with bright sunny skies and temperatures in the low 60s.
The improved weather seemed to have a large impact on the young U15s, who claimed a 0-0 tie after an 80-minute slugfest. The game was disjointed but wasn’t lacking in commitment or tackles. While Vardar had an edge in chances created, neither team quite had the quality to capitalize and each settled for a point – exhausted by the time the final whistle blew. Finishing the weekend with a tie was an improvement from day one, and the games left the 15s with some new thoughts on areas to focus and improve leading into ECNL Phoenix in only 2 weeks.
The U16s had another great game, showing huge improvement from the 2014-15 season, and went into the 65th minute scoreless before a Vardar corner bent into the goal to break the deadlock. A stoppage time goal sealed the game for the visitors, though a tie would have been a fair result. The backline led by Sierra Koch and Steph Franczak was great throughout the weekend, and Ali Menard in midfield provided a stable presence in midfield. The team continues to show consistent improvement month to month and is no longer to be taken for granted in the ECNL’s top conference.
The U17s fell behind 0-1 in the 10th minute as Vardar was determined to respond to their opening day defeat. The game was largely a midfield battle for the majority of the first half, but fatigue saw spaces open up considerably in the second half. When the points seemed almost gone, Taylor Kerwin was on the back end of a wide free-kick in the 79th minute to equalize the game in the dying moments. Michaela Hoard led a strong effort in midfield, with outside backs Taylor Tabbert and Bianca Stubler providing much of the team’s attacking efforts.
The U18s created a host of fantastic chances in the opening 20 minutes on day 2, but spurned them all. The longer the game went scoreless, the more determined Vardar became. For 90 minutes the Michigan side battled gamely and defended very well – determined to at least earn a point on the day. When the final whistle blew, despite a huge advantage in possession and chances, the home side was forced to settle for a 0-0 tie, leaving a bitter taste.
“These 8 games were incredibly demanding for every team from both clubs,” said staff coach Andy Lee. “At every age, you could see by the end that no player had energy left – which is a tribute to the work and commitment of both clubs. From our perspective it was a great weekend that shows that our teams at every age group are now competitive with everyone in the conference.”
“Having been in the ECNL Midwest Conference for only a few months now, I am really impressed by the quality of the teams, and how hard every game in this conference is,” said staff coach Hayley Siegel. “There really are no easy games in this conference, and the physical commitment of the players every game is fantastic.”
“The way the results went at each group from day 1 to day 2 show how close this conference really is,” said staff coach Vito Parente. “The result changed at almost every age group on day 2, and no game was more than a 2 goal difference. It just goes to show that the depth of the Midwest Conference is unmatched.”
This weekend, the FC Wisconsin Eclipse ECNL teams are off from ECNL competition, allowing much needed recovery prior to the first ECNL National Showcase of the season in Phoenix, AZ on November 13-15. FC Wisconsin Eclipse will have 4 teams in ECNL Phoenix – each playing 3 non-conference games over the 3 day event.