Thirty-six ECNL clubs ventured to Phoenix last weekend for the league’s first of five national events. The matches featured mostly cross-conference games, and gave clubs a chance to play opponents from across the country. ESPNHS takes a look at the top teams and top performers from this weekend’s events in Phoenix.
Top Team: Arsenal remains unbeaten, unfazed
Being undefeated is one thing. But after six matches, having scored 19 goals while allowing just one, that’s complete domination. Head coach Jason Montgomery says that sometimes the best defense is a good offense.
"The reason we’re playing so well is because top to bottom, we really control the game," Montgomery said after his team went 3-0 this weekend by beating Charlotte SA, Carolina Elite, and Eclipse Select. "Every single player is athletic and talented. I feel very confident in all of them, and they can all bring something into the game."
Arsenal did allow one fluke goal in their final victory, a 4-1 win over Eclipse. It was their first of the season.
Montgomery knows that a good defense requires more than just a good back line.
"The back line is very solid," he said, "but our team defense is good all around. We’re organized and we get behind the ball, and we get in the spots we need to be.”
The squad is now 6-0-0 on the season, and is about to enter a streak on conference games that will include tough matches with Slammers, Real So Cal, and San Diego Surf. And Arsenal knows that while the SoCal Conference is one of the ECNL’s strongest, it also includes one of the most grueling schedules.
"We’re definitely going to beat up on each other, there’s no doubt about that," he said. "It’s such a loaded schedule. You’ve got to have your A-game every time you play."
Arsenal seems to bring their A-game every time out. The squad boasts 16 Division I or Division II recruits on the 19-player roster. Captain Haylee DeGrood is headed to Portland, goalkeeper Carson Dukes will be attending Ohio State, and striker Ifeoma Onumonu will play for Cal Berkeley, to name a few. And Montgomery says, for the first time in a while, they’re 100 percent healthy.
After an impressive weekend, Arsenal resumes conference play by taking on SoCal Blues this weekend. They’ll then have a slate of games in November before breaking for high school play. Across the SoCal conference, Arsenal has established themselves as a force to be reckoned with.
Makenzy Doniak, Slammers: She opened the weekend with two goals and an assist in Slammers' 4-0 win over CESA, then followed it up on Sunday with another goal and assist in a 3-3 tie with KCFC.
McKenzie Berryhill, SC Del Sol: Tallied eight points on the weekend, scoring a goal in all three of SC Del Sol’s wins and adding an assist in two of the three matches.
Brianna Ryce, Atlanta Fire: Scored to open the weekend in a 2-1 victory over Irvine Strikers, then netted two goals in Atlanta Fire’s 6-0 win over St. Louis Scott Gallagher on Monday.
Top Team: Eclipse Select soaring through age group
After a perfect 3-0 weekend without allowing any goals, Eclipse Select has improved its record to 10-0 on the season as it hit the halfway point of their ECNL schedule. Eclipse Select opened the weekend with a 3-0 victory over D’Feeters, then followed it up with a 2-0 win over SoCal Blues and a 4-0 triumph over Arsenal. In 10 matches, the team has scored 34 goals and allowed just two. But the toughest part of the schedule still lies ahead, as it faces both Michigan Hawks and Vardar twice in the next month.
Kristal Williams, FC Dallas: No better way to open the weekend than with a hat trick. Williams scored all three of FC Dallas’ goals in a win over Sereno. Two of them were assisted by Brooke Hill.
Joanna Boyles, CASL Chelsea: CASL picked up two wins this weekend, and Boyles was a key part of both. She had a goal and an assist in CASL's 3-1 win over San Diego Surf, and netted another goal in a victory over So Cal Blues.
Adalie Schmidt, St. Louis Scott Gallagher: It was a huge weekend for Scott Gallagher, picking up three big wins over California clubs. Schmidt had a goal and an assist in the opening game against West Coast, and scored again in a 3-2 victory over SC Del Sol.
Top Team: Strikers prove they’re ECNL players
For a new club, the first ECNL event provides an opportunity to set the tone for future performance. Richmond Strikers set the tone the right way, coming away with two wins and a tie against three talented clubs in Phoenix. Facing FC Milwaukee on Saturday, Strikers drew a 1-1 tie. In the next two matches, they faced fellow ECNL newcomers Las Vegas Premiers and Blue Valley SC, beating them by scores of 2-0 and 2-1, respectively. Strikers advance to 3-0-2 on the season, and look forward to a tough match with CASL Chelsea in late October.
Jennifer Allen, Gwinnett Soccer Association: With three goals in their first two matches, Allen is the go-to forward for GSA. Her two goals were the difference in a 3-1 victory over Blue Valley SC.
Ashley Fleck, Concorde Fire: The goalkeeper blanked all three opponents this weekend, pushing her streak to six straight shutouts. She’s proven the ability to keep Concorde in any game.
Grace Damaska, Atlanta Fire: Damaska had two goals in a narrow 3-2 victory over San Diego Surf on Monday, and she was also a difference maker and goal-scorer in Sunday’s 2-2 tie with Sereno.
Top Team: Vardar continuing impressive run
Any team that’s allowed just one goal coming into the tournament is naturally scary. But for the girls from Michigan, it’s more than just defense. Vardar was averaging nearly four goals per game before traveling to Phoenix. Sure enough, Vardar beat Atlanta Fire on Saturday in predictable fashion: 4-0. Vardar followed that up with a 2-0 victory of De Anza Force and a 1-0 win over Heat FC to push the team to 9-0 on the season. The team still has allowed just one goal all year, and have scored 29.
Cassidy Menke, St. Louis Scott Gallagher: Netted four goals in three matches this weekend, including two in a 6-1 win over Heat FC. She also scored Scott Gallagher’s only goal in a 1-1 tie with Irvine.
Anika Rodriguez, So Cal Blues: Another performance of four goals in three matches. And she had a big game when her team needed it most, scoring two in a 2-1 victory over Eclipse Select.
Nadia Hernandez, Heat FC: Scored three of the team’s four goals this weekend, including a two goal game against Atlanta Fire to solidify a 3-1 win.