March 3, 2012

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Regional variations add spice to ECNL National Showcase in San Antonio

25 Feb, 2012

By Charles Boehm

San Antonio – The size and diversity of the nation’s youth soccer scene makes for some intriguing contrasts when top clubs meet at Elite Clubs National League National Showcase tournaments like the one unfolding at the South Texas Area Regional Soccer Complex this weekend, and many of Saturday’s results reflected those differences.

Variations in climate, mentality and even the timing of the high school season, as well as their place in the ECNL national standings, mean that teams have entered this event with a wide range of priorities and preparation levels.

Some are well into their national schedule, others are just beginning it. Founding members of ECNL tend to benefit from familiarity with the competition, while most newcomers need time to adapt to the higher level of play.

Solar Chelsea, one of four Dallas-area ECNL powerhouses whose depth and quality almost always makes them a tough nut to crack, are both benefiting and suffering from the timing of the Texas high school season, which runs from January to April.

Playing with a battle-hardened edge, their Under-15s won their first two matches here, including a 3-0 win over FC Milwaukee on Saturday, despite having to bring up players from the U-14 level.

“We actually had three injured, and between Sunday we got an injury, Tuesday we got an injury and then Wednesday before we left on Thursday we got three injured that really left us short. So expectations weren’t as high as expected,”explained coach Nick Stavrou, who also lost Sairra Tucker, his midfield “quarterback,” during Saturday’s win, which was aided by a Milwaukee red card.

“So it’s a little bit of a new thing and the girls have done great. [A] 2-0 [record] was better than I expected. We’ve just got to keep going.”

“One [injury] was in a game and two were in training. One was high school – not with us, but when they’re playing club and high school at the same time, the body’s doing too much, so injuries are more susceptible to happen.”

While their Texas counterparts are in the midst of high school season and must deal with injuries and fatigue, most northern clubs are dusting off the cobwebs after a winter-imposed hiatus. And inevitably, teams at the top of National Flight A have a sharper focus on the standings – and attaining a place in the National Championships – than those in mid-table of National Flight B.

“This is our first national event,” said Minnesota Thunder Academy U-16s coach David Alberti after his team’s 3-1 loss to savvy New York side East Meadow SC. “We’ve had six regional games. We train on turf, we train indoors – perfect weather, perfect field. And this field’s hard, and that’s a problem. Plus the last two games, they’ve pressed us really hard. We’re not handling the pressure enough, so we have to get better with that.”

Thunder Academy are new arrivals to ECNL and while they’ve carved out a leading role in the Minnesota club scene, their local area can only offer so much preparation for what awaited them here in San Antonio
“On Sunday nights, all of our club’s ECNL teams play each other. But you can only that so much, it gets stale,” noted Alberti.

“We’re coaching to make them better soccer players, versus ‘Hey, we have to win this game.’ Especially in B Flight. There’s no national championship for us. But it’s certainly more competitive, which is nice. Teams are closer [in ability] – the little things matter in these games, and today, they were better at the little things than we were.”

Many other teams from colder climates have not played 11v11 soccer on a full-sized field in months, though this year’s mild winter has made it easier for some, like Indiana-based Carmel United U-17s, to do a few training sessions outdoors on turf before traveling to Texas to test themselves.

“We love it. The girls thrive for this – that’s what it’s all about right there,” said coach Ralph Richards, who left the STAR Complex pleased with his team despite their heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Northern California side San Juan SC on an injury-time goal.

“Every game, every point means something. You come away with a tie – that was great. You go after the win? Awesome for those guys. A loss doesn’t kill us, but it really puts us behind in trying to stay on the goals that we want.”

Richards’ team won promotion from Flight B last year and currently sit in mid-table of Flight A, maintaining hopes of earning a place in the season’s crowning event at Waukegan Sports Park in Chicago in June.

“That league table is tight and to get into that top group to play for Nationals in June, that’s something that these girls want to achieve, so we just have to keep pushing and getting better every day. But the competition was phenomenal.”

National Showcase: San Antonio wraps up on Sunday.

[ +See full schedules and results for U-15s at National Showcase: San Antonio ]

[ +See full schedules and results for U-16s at National Showcase: San Antonio ]

[ +See full schedules and results for U-17s at National Showcase: San Antonio ]

[ +See full schedules and results for U-18s at National Showcase: San Antonio ]

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