It doesn’t take much to realize the importance of this weekend’s ECNL matches between Michigan Hawks and Eclipse Select.
At the U18 level, it’s a battle between the first-place Hawks and the second-place Eclipse. For the U17s, it’s last year’s US Youth Soccer Region II Champion against last year’s best ECNL record. At U16, it’s a chance for two squads to prove themselves against a rival club. And at U15, Eclipse sits in second place with the Hawks right behind them.
From top to bottom, at every age level, this weekend’s matches will have significant implications on the Midwest Conference standings.
“There’s definitely a mutual respect between the clubs,” said Michigan Hawks U17 head coach Doug Landefeld. “It’s like Michigan versus Michigan State. This week is different. The training is different, and the expectations are different.”
Eclipse head coach Mike Nesci agrees: “They are a fantastic club with a great coaching staff,” Nesci said of Michigan Hawks. “They’re also a huge reason why our club has gained prominence. They make us better because we are constantly competing with them.”
Nesci and Landefeld know each other well, and their teams know each other well. With the ECNL moving to the new conference alignment, they now meet twice during the regular season. And they both expect their paths will cross during postseason play.
Last year, the Michigan Hawks U17 squad won the Region II Tournament thanks in large part to leading scorer Summer Green. But Green will miss this weekend’s match to attend National Team camp, so Landefeld says he needs the rest of his offense to pick up the slack.
In Chicago, the Eclipse U17 squad – holders of a 10-0-0 record this season – do not rely on any one player. The team has scored 34 goals in 10 games, while allowing just two goals against. Nesci says the squad doesn’t have any superstars, and that team defense is the key to success.
Coming into the match, Eclipse’s perfect record puts them at the top of the Midwest Conference standings. Michigan Hawks loom right behind, with a 7-1-1 record. It’s an almost exact reversal from the standings at U18.
And even at the U15 and U16 levels, these games could very well have playoff implications. Any time these two meet, it’s expected to be a good one.
“It seems like every time we play them, it ends up a one goal game,” Nesci said. “I expect that again this weekend.”
Other Games to Watch this weekend:
Dallas Texans vs. KCFC (3 p.m. Sunday)
Texans comes into the weekend undefeated at 6-0-1, mostly because of their versatile offense. Everybody is a threat for the Dallas squad, which is anchored in the midfield by the duo of Makenzie Koch and Mary Lonsberry. Add in leading scorer Kelsey Shimmick at forward, and Dallas has one of the most high-powered offenses in the ECNL. KCFC is a team that might be able to neutralize that offense. Their 4-2-2 record is a bit deceiving, but they’ll benefit greatly from playing some of the nation’s best teams early in the season.
CASL Chelsea vs. FC Virginia (11 a.m. Sunday)
CASL enters the weekend at 7-0-3, having reached the halfway point of their ECNL regular season schedule. It’s a star-studded team with goal-scorers like Joanna Boyles and Paige Reckert in the midfield and a strong back line that has not allowed more than one goal in a game all year. FC Virginia will put that back line to the test, though. The team has scored a total of 10 goals in their first two ECNL matches this season, a 6-0 win over Richmond Strikers and a 4-1 victory over McLean. This game will likely come down to that matchup: the powerful Virginia offense versus the impenetrable CASL back line.
Real So Cal vs. Mustang (12:30 p.m. Saturday)
These two California squads are both undefeated, both sit at the top of their respective conferences and probably both realize the importance of this non-conference match. Mustang enters the weekend at 3-0-1, good enough for sole possession of first place in the Northwest Conference. Real So Cal enters at 4-0-1, sitting atop the talented So Cal Conference after beating So Cal Blues on opening weekend. Both teams are vying for top spots in national standings, and this matchup could be meaningful at multiple age groups.
Sereno vs. San Diego Surf (11 a.m. Sunday)
The San Diego Surf U15 squad embodies the idea of a balanced attack. The team’s last 14 goals have been scored by 11 different players, a balance that has put them in first place in the So Cal Conference. It also makes the team incredibly tough to defend. But if anyone is up to the challenge, it’s Sereno, which has only given up three goals in their first eight games, leading to a 7-1-0 record and a share of first place in the Mountain West Conference. This match may be low scoring, but there’s no telling who might score the goals.