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ECNL Watch: Clash for first highlights slate

It’s a light weekend for Elite Clubs National League play, sandwiched between late February’s San Antonio event and the San Diego event later this month. But the clubs who are playing have a handful of important games and this weekend’s matches include a battle for first place, a return from a long hiatus, and the beginnings of a budding rivalry.

When clubs meet outside of national events, they usually have each of their teams play -- from Under-15 to Under-18. That is the case this weekend, as 20 clubs take the pitch against regional foes at every age level. ESPNHS breaks down this week’s top five club matchups.

Carmel United vs. Michigan Hawks (Saturday at neutral site)

This will be a good game at almost every age level as both are powerhouse clubs in the Midwest Conference. Interestingly, both clubs exhibit completely different styles of play. At U18, it’s a first place versus second place matchup. The conference-leading Michigan Hawks rely heavily on forward Allyson Krause, who has scored 18 goals in 19 games, while second place Carmel United focuses on a balanced effort -- they have had 11 different goal scorers over the course of 12 games. At U17, it’s No. 2 vs. No. 3. The second place Hawks are an offensive powerhouse, averaging better than three goals per game, while third place Carmel is all about defense, giving up less than one goal per game.

McLean vs. FC Bucks (Saturday in McLean, Va.)

This matchup is interesting particularly at the younger age groups, which perhaps could signify the beginnings of a young rivalry. At U15, these clubs occupy first and second place in the Mid-Atlantic Conference and this weekend’s match is an opportunity to establish superiority. Undefeated FC Bucks (4-0) hasn’t given up a goal yet, but will be tested by a McLean squad that has won their last two matches 4-0 and 5-0. At U16, FC Bucks has registered three shutouts in their last six matches, but McLean’s Julia Suarez (11 goals in 15 games) might have something to say about that. And at U17, McLean sits near the top of national Flight B standings due to solid performances at national events, but has struggled in conference play and looks to improve on their 5-5-2 conference record.

FC Virginia vs. Ohio Elite (Saturday in Clifton, Va.)

Top to bottom, these are two pretty evenly matched clubs. For FC Virginia, their strength is a U17 team that stands in first place with a 10-1-1 conference record. For Ohio Elite, it’s a U16 squad with a 7-2 record, including five wins by a score of 1-0. And this matchup will be particularly interesting at U18, where FC Virginia enters the weekend riding a four-game win streak during which they have averaged better than three goals per game. Ohio Elite will counter with a triple-threat offense, headed by Ohio State signee Marissa Wolf, Florida commit Claire Falknor, and Iowa-bound Lana Bonekemper. Together, the three of them have accounted for 15 goals in nine matches.

Connecticut FC vs. Albertson Fury (Sunday in Waterbury, Conn.)

These Northeast Conference clubs are still in the early stages of their ECNL schedules, having only competed in national events so far. The most intriguing matchup comes at U18 as both clubs were successful at the Sanford event in the highest age level. The best part about this match: neither team has given up more than one goal in a game all season. At U16, though the defenses may not be quite as strong, both squads have shown their offensive prowess. So they may have very different final scores, but every game should be close this weekend between these two clubs.

Utah Avalanche vs. Sereno (Sunday in Utah)

It’s welcome back weekend for Sereno, who returns from a four-month ECNL hiatus to break for high school play. The club hasn’t played a league game since Oct. 30, and returns by traveling to Utah for games against the Avalanche and SC Del Sol. At U18, they’ll have to face a tough Avalanche team that went 3-0 at the San Antonio event. At U15, Sereno currently holds the top spot in national Flight B standings, but sits in second in the Mountain West Conference. A win this weekend against Utah would greatly help their chances of catching Colorado Rush.