Club Notes: ECNL Atlanta U16s are on Fire

Atlanta Fire's U16 girls' team is off to a 5-0 start Jim Kuelbs

With 162 games across the five age groups, last weekend was truly a coming out party for the newly organized ECNL. For the first time, a wide range of clubs competed in conference matchups from Georgia to Wisconsin to Southern California. ESPNHS takes a look at some of the top stories from last weekend, and looks ahead at games to watch this weekend.


SoCal: No cake walk for defending champs

One quick glance at the SoCal Conference standings and it becomes clear that the defending ECNL Champs will have a whole new set of challenges this season. San Diego Surf sits in fifth place out of six Flight A teams in the conference thanks to a late August loss to Arsenal. Their toughest competition may likely be Slammers, who has scored 13 goals in three matches while allowing just one. In fact, the Slammers club went a collective 7-0-1 this weekend across the four age groups. In a talent-packed SoCal Conference, there’s only room for one winner. After the first major weekend, Slammers has a leg up on the competition.

What to Watch For:

Southeast -- Gwinnett Soccer Association vs. Birmingham United (6 p.m. Sunday in Alabama): These two teams sit atop the Southeast Conference standings with identical 2-1-1 records. GSA is new to the ECNL, but proved themselves in opening weekend matches against Concorde Fire and Atlanta Fire. Birmingham is coming off an offensive explosion this weekend as it scored five goals from five different players to beat Virginia Rush.


Texas: Red River rematch

The U17 squads for Dallas Sting and TSC Hurricane know each other well. Perhaps a little too well. They met in June for the Region III title – a game Hurricane FC won 1-0. Then they met again in July for the US Youth Soccer National Championship – a match the Texas girls took in overtime. This weekend in Fort Worth, Texas, they met for a third time in four months. TSC Hurricane took control of the match with goals from Anna Beffer, Lauren King and Shiloh Price en route to a 3-1 victory. Forward Kristen Killion recorded two assists in the match, which put TSC Hurricane above Sting in the standings.

What to Watch For:

Mountain West -- Colorado Storm vs. Colorado Rush (9 a.m. Sunday in Colorado): Soccer in the Rocky Mountains has become a three-team affair. Colorado Storm and Colorado Rush head into this weekend hoping to establish themselves as the top contender for conference-leading Real Colorado. Both squads play Real Colorado in their next match, so Sunday’s game could have major conference implications.


Southeast: Atlanta Fire hot through five games

The U16 Atlanta Fire had a solid weekend, with a pair of 2-0 victories over Charlotte SA and Carolina Elite SA. Forward Jessica Sexton netted two goals in the Sunday game against Charlotte and recorded an assist in Saturday’s win. The pair of victories pushes Atlanta Fire to 5-0-0 on the season.

“Jessica is a very aggressive player,” coach Mirza Mustafic said. “She’s very athletic, good with the ball, and she works hard on the field to create opportunities for herself and for her teammates. It’s her quickness that allows her to breakthrough, set people up, and put herself in position to score.”

But Mustafic says the key to Fire’s success is their defense. The squad allowed just six goals in 12 matches last season, thanks to a back line anchored by Delaney Fechalos and Lauren Pinion, as well as goalkeeper Meredith Carson. The Fire have established themselves as the team to beat at U16 level in the Southeast.

What to Watch For:

Texas: Dallas Sting vs. Lonestar SC (11 a.m. Saturday in Texas): Both squads had a successful weekend, Lonestar going 2-0 and Sting winning their one match. For defending ECNL National Champion Lonestar, this is a chance to take sole possession of first place in the conference, while for Sting, it’s an opportunity to establish themselves at this age group. Keep an eye on forward Sarah Summers to put shots on net for Sting.


Midwest: Vardar vying for top spot

It’s hard to dominate any more convincingly than Vardar. Through four games, the squad has scored 16 goals and hasn’t allowed a single one. After posting victories of 6-0 and 4-0 this weekend in Michigan, Vardar sits alone at the top of the Midwest standings. The club competes in Flight B and has a match against second-place St. Louis Scott Gallagher next weekend. Tough matches against the age groups top Flight A teams – Eclipse and Michigan Hawks – await Vardar in October. For now, it’s one convincing win after another as Vardar makes a name for themselves at U15.

What to Watch For:

Mid-Atlantic -- Richmond Strikers vs. McLean (4 p.m. Saturday in Virginia): Both clubs will be making their ECNL debut this weekend as they go head-to-head in Virginia. The U15 game is of special interest as it will showcase the future of these clubs as they enter into play at the top level. McLean and Richmond Strikers both have had success against other Virginia teams and will begin a full slate of conference games next weekend.