March 3, 2012

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Dallas clubs spearhead Texas dominance at ECNL Natl. Showcase: San Antonio

26 Feb, 2012

By Charles Boehm

San Antonio - With a dozen or so matches taking place at any given moment during four to five time slots over its three days of play, almost all of them meaningful and passionately contested, the Elite Clubs National League National Showcase: San Antonio presented spectators with some tough choices about what games to watch.

One useful rule of thumb: when in doubt, follow the scouts.

The viewing choices of the hundreds of college coaches in attendance often revealed which matches featured the most sought-after talent – and the clubs that are seen as its most reliable producers.

And this weekend, the teams from the event’s host state offered a forceful reminder of the Texas scene’s quality and depth, racking up impressive results in some of the most closely-watched contests.

Overall, the 27 teams representing the ECNL’s seven member clubs from Texas rolled to a 52-16-13 record in San Antonio.

“The Texas teams are deep, they’re athletic, they get stuck in, they’re hard, they’re competitive,” said Sandy Davison, who now coaches at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro after building an impressive track record at the elite club level with Houston’s Challenge SC, Sereno (Ariz.) and Tophat (Ga.), among others.

Challenge SC ran up an 8-2-2 record over the weekend and Lonestar SC, an Austin-based club which has also grown into a prominent player in the San Antonio market, rolled to a 7-3-2 mark, confirming both clubs’ status as ascendant national contenders. But the epicenter of the state’s elite girls’ scene remains in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metropolis, a sprawling region with a long history and a deep talent pool which supports five strong ECNL clubs.

“It’s very competitive in the Dallas area, because you have five clubs just in the Dallas area alone that are in the ECNL,” said Hugh Bradford, coach of D’Feeters SC’s Under-16 squad. “So it makes things very competitive. In other areas there may be one club that owns a particular city, whereas in the Dallas area there’s five of us. So the training has to be top-notch, the competition is top-notch. You have to prepare your kids to be able to do that at a very, very high level.”

Few participants in this National Showcase were as dominant as Dallas Sting (8-4 on the weekend), Dallas Texans (7-1-1), FC Dallas (7-1-4)  and Solar-Chelsea (10-1-1). To be fair, several leading ECNL squads from Southern California and the Northeast did not compete in San Antonio, and to some extent, good results would be expected of teams making a five-hour drive to the event rather than a cross-country flight.

But the Texas sides’ quality was evident to anyone watching – and most of their stars are in the midst of the state’s high school season, which tended to boost their sharpness but also contributed to a rash of injuries which left some clubs relying on younger, greener players.

“I think we’ve got a solid group and it’s more of a team, there’s nobody really that we rely on especially,” said Solar-Chelsea U-15s coach Nick Stavrou, whose team made light of several prominent absentees with a 3-0 weekend run featuring six goals scored and none conceded. “It looks like we’re going to beat teams on the ability of all the players rather than an individual.”

Clubs in smaller and more isolated markets have reason to be envious of that depth, the product of a Dallas scene which forces rival coaches to compete for top prospects like their college counterparts do – except at the middle and even elementary school levels.

“Now it puts an emphasis on, in your own areas across the country, to get the top athletes and get them out and start training them,” explained Bradford. “And that’s what we need – because for so long, soccer missed out on the top athletes, but now, with the sport getting so big across the US, it makes it important to show those kids at a young age that this is a fun sport, this is a sport that they can excel in, and that there’s a future for them. It’s great that we can have that.

“But yeah, I do feel like a college coach at times, not only trying to get kids in and getting your program going.”

All of which tends to make Dallas clubs a can’t-miss show for the nation’s leading college programs.

“You can get a second-tier kid out of Dallas that you know is just going to work,” noted Davison.

“When I was a club coach, [college] coaches would talk to me about players, and I would think to myself, ‘What do you see in that kid?’ But now that I’ve been in the college game and you know what your program is like and you know the kind of kids that fit socially, psychologically, physically, technically, into your conference, it’s a little bit different…and in Dallas, we find those kind of kids. Lots of clubs, lots of players.” 

[ +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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