On April 23, the FC Wisconsin U15-U18 ECNL teams journeyed to Minneapolis for some key ECNL Midwest Conference games against the Minnesota Thunder Academy.
On Saturday, April 23, the FC Wisconsin U15-U18 ECNL teams journeyed to Minneapolis for some key ECNL Midwest Conference games against the Minnesota Thunder Academy.
The U18s opened the day brightly and took a 1-0 lead in the 60th minute on a great strike from Jess Cooley from 16 yards out. The goal was set-up with a fantastic cross-field diagonal ball from Mara Pfeilstifter, picking Cooley out as she ran forward from outside back. After a step-over and a few other feints, Cooley beat her defender and then beat the goalkeeper in the far corner. The Wisconsin lead was tested, and ultimately Minnesota Thunder equalized in the 70th minute, through a well-executed quick set piece that found a free back post runner. The visitors from Wisconsin were not to be deterred, however, and Delaney Hughes topped off a 10-pass sequence with a back post sliding finish to take a 2-1 lead in the 80th minute. Emma Roemer (U16), Cooley, and MacKenzie O'Connell were all involved in the build-up to the winner. The lead stood up this time, and the U18s left Minnesota with a well-deserved 3 points.
The U17s faced a rematch against the same team that beat them in the ECNL North American Cup Championship game in June 2016. That game went to penalties, and the match in Minnesota on Saturday was just as close. MTA took a 1-0 lead in the 40th minute on a great headed finish from an uncontested corner. Going into the break, FC Wisconsin was down by one in a game that was back and forth and very even; but the second half had far more excitement in store. FC Wisconsin equalized in the 50th minute when Ali Menard (U16) nicely volleyed home a corner kick from the top of the penalty box. MTA then took the lead again 10 minutes later on a great finish from 20 yards when the FC Wisconsin back four did not challenge the build-up aggressively enough and left a few yards for MTA to exploit. Never deterred, the U17s responded with some good attacking intent and Kayla Zimdars (U16) was taken down in the box after a nice individual move. Taylor Kerwin tucked the penalty away to once again tie the game at two. Unfortunately the winner for MTA came only seconds after the game was equalized, when MTA scored their second corner of the day to win 3-2 and take 3 important points.
The U16s dropped 3 points in a 1-4 defeat, in a disappointing showing. The teams were seperated by only one at the break after an Elyse Bennett goal cut in to the early MTA lead. The second half was disjointed from both teams, and two scrappy goals extended the scoreline in a game where neither team looked particularly dominant.
The U15s finished Saturday in exciting fashion, in a tight match that will have significant impact on post-season qualification. Aryssa Mahrt opened the scoring in the 15th minute with a blast from 20 yards that gave the goalkeeper no chance. FC Wisconsin created several additional good chances in the first 40 minutes but couldn't quite find the finishing touch, setting up a dramatic and intense second half. The game opened up significantly in the second half, but strong defensive performances from Nicole Norfolk and Emma Tabor kept MTA at bay in the moments they threatened. The midfield combination of Mahrt, Emma Jaskaniec, Maddie Tabor, and Maya Alberts (U13) did a nice job of maintaining possession and stretching the field from sideline to sideline. Rachel Dallet, always scrappy up front, also played a key role in disrupting the MTA build-up, and being a key link in attack for the visitors. Through some tense moments in the final minutes, the U15s made the lead stand and earned 3 tough points.
The U14s played MTA on Sunday, and their game ended up as potentially the most dramatic game of the weekend. MTA kicked-off with great aggressive intent, earning a corner in the first few minutes. As the MTA U14s pressed, however, they left themselves vulnerable to counters and were punished in the 5th minute on a textbook counter from FC Wisconsin. Peighton Steffen won the ball on the right sideline after some great group defending, found Aryssa Mahrt streaking out of midfield, and Mahrt slipped Rachel Dallet in behind the defense to open the scoring. The second Wisconsin goal was almost a carbon copy of the first, with Mahrt again finding Dallet behind the defense in the 15th minute. The remainder of the half was far more cagy, as a midfield battle took over for long periods. MTA opened their account in the final 5 minutes of the first half on a build-up down the MTA right side, and the teams went into the break 2-1. The second half provided just as much excitement, but no goals, as the teams competed and battled for every ball for 40 minutes. Lauren Quast made the necessary saves in goal when MTA managed to break through, and Shannon Bathey and Abby Moriarty were rocks in central defense. When the final whistle below, the U14s had earned their first win in ECNL play, and showed that the training and work over the past several months was bearing fruit.
Overall, FC Wisconsin claimed the day with a 3-2 record against a great MTA club. The clubs will face off again in May when MTA comes to Wisconsin to finish the season series.