Mile High rivalry heats up this weekend

Real Colorado and Colorado Rush will clash this week with first place in the Mountain West Conference on the line in several age groups. Michael Herrmann

It’s clear where the power brokers are in the Mountain West Conference.

In all five ECNL age groups, either Real Colorado or Colorado Rush sits in first place. In four of the five, the other club sits in second. And this weekend, all of those age groups are in flux as the two clubs meet Sunday at Addenbrooke Park in Lakewood, Colo., for a handful of matches that will determine first place in literally every age group.

“They know how important these games are,” said Lorne Donaldson, head coach of the Real Colorado U18 team. “The Rush players know, the Real players know, and both clubs are always prepared to play good soccer.”

For the U18 teams the winner of Sunday’s match will hold first place in the conference. Rush comes into the game 5-0; Real enters at 4-1. And these squads have gotten to know each other well over the years.

“We are very familiar with their coaches and their players,” Donaldson said. “And they know or style, and our players. It’s always a good match when we play.”

Real Colorado will rely on Layla Brown, the team’s leading scorer who played exceptionally well against Rush in their last meeting. For Rush, the player to watch is Lindsey Horan, an explosive scorer who has tallied two hat tricks so far this year. Donaldson knows that the game could likely come down to which team plays better defense on the opponent’s star player.

At the U17 level, it’s Real who enters in first place with a 5-0 record. Rush, in second at 4-1, looks to gain the lead over their rival.

“Both teams have had their fair share of success,” said Erik Bushey, the Colorado Rush U17 head coach. “It’s two very talented teams who play distinctively different soccer.”

The Rush U17 team boasts six national team players. Real has their fair share of stars as well, including a defense that has given up just one goal in five matches.

At the U16 and U15 levels, the players are still very familiar with each other thanks to high school play, other club matches, and in some instances, old teammates. Even at U14, the rivalry is a strong as ever – just one game separates the two clubs for first place.

“Top to bottom, it’s two strong clubs,” Bushey said.

As for the matches this weekend: “This is some of the best soccer in our area, and I think in the whole country.”

Other Games to Watch this weekend in the ECNL

U18 – Southeast Conference

Charlotte SA vs. CASL Chelsea (4 p.m. Saturday in North Carolina)

CASL comes into the weekend not only undefeated at 4-0, but having not given up a single goal all season. The squad knows that this weekend will be a real test, beginning with a Saturday match against second-place Charlotte SA. CASL will look for more out of defender Alexandra Puszczynski, who had two assists in their 3-0 win over Atlanta Fire last Sunday. Charlotte will count on leading scorer Hannah Robertson, who netted two goals last weekend for the squad.

U17 – Texas Conference

Lonestar vs. TSC Hurricane (10 a.m. Sunday in Texas)

TSC Hurricane, which has already made a name for themselves as a new club in the ECNL, comes into the game at 3-1-1 in second place in the Texas Conference Flight A. Lonestar enters the weekend at 3-1-2, just percentage points behind Hurricane, so this game could have a major impact on the standings. Keep an eye on Hurricane midfielder Anna Beffer and on the girls she feeds: the offensive duo of Kristen Killion and Elizabeth Keester. For Lonestar, the threat comes from points leader Taylor Milburn and midfielder Meghan Corder.

U16 – SoCal Conference

So Cal Blues vs. West Coast (1 p.m. Sunday in California)

The SoCal conference is rich in competition and will almost always yield a few interesting matches on any given weekend. This weekend’s match between So Cal Blues and West Coast is no surprise as both teams enter with clear objectives in mind. So Cal Blues undoubtedly look to get their offense going, as the team has scored just once in two matches. Midfielder Stephanie Malherbe scored to give the Blues a 1-0 win on Saturday. For West Coast, they’ll search for defensive consistency; the team has two shutouts, but also gave up four goals in their loss to San Diego Surf.

U15 – Mid-Atlantic Conference

McLean vs. FC Virginia (2 p.m. Saturday in Virginia)

It’s still early in the season for these untested teams. McLean enters the game 2-0 after two blowout victories in mid-September. A 5-0 win over Richmond Strikers and a 4-0 win over Virginia Rush gave the McLean squad a good welcoming to the ECNL, as Rebecca Voyack and Mia Hoen-Beck both has multi-goal games. FC Virginia enters the weekend at 1-0, thanks to a convincing 4-0 win over Richmond. Isabella Muzo had a goal and an assist in that match, and looks to do the same this weekend against McLean.