ECNL GIRLS NATIONAL PLAYOFFS DAY 6: WORTH THE WAIT
Perhaps the worst feeling in sports is falling just short of your goal.
One shot going one more inch to the left. One dive going one inch further to stop a shot. One pass just one inch higher to clear a defender’s foot.
Thoughts like these racing through athlete’s heads as they watch another team celebrating a championship.
It was what Eclipse Select SC experienced four years ago in the U14 ECNL Champions League Final. But not today. Monday, in what was the final ECNL game of their careers for many, it was their turn to celebrate.
No. 3 Eclipse defeated No. 4 Internationals SC 3-2 in the U18/19 Champions League Final at the ECNL Girls National Playoffs in a contest that lived up to the hype. The two teams played the role of favorite and underdog through the 16-team bracket, each advancing on penalty kicks into the Final. They both had potent attacks and stellar defense. But Monday morning, Eclipse caught one more break.
Eclipse opened the scoring just eight minutes into the contest, with the early lead fueling their drive throughout the half. Eclipse ran the ball down the right side of the pitch before knocking a pass toward the back post. Waiting on the pass, Ella Richards sat at the back post until the perfect moment, heading the ball under the diving goalkeeper for the score.
It looked like Eclipse was going to double its lead late in the half, but Internationals had other ideas. With the team on a breakaway, the Internationals keeper charged out from her net, sliding and making a stop to thwart the scoring chance.
Through the first 45 minutes, Eclipse held a slim 1-0 lead.
Determined to even the game, Internationals came out of the break with high-level pressing and pressuring the Eclipse defense, nearly scoring just minutes into the half but hit the crossbar. Eclipse weathered the storm and then pounced in the 51st minute to take a 2-0 lead.
Eclipse charged into the box but couldn’t get a clean look on net, bringing the ball back out to the top of the 18-yard line. From there, Briana Rodriguez put a low shot with some spin on net. The ball skipped off the ground, changing directions just enough to get past the keeper and into the net for the score.
Despite a 2-0 deficit, Internationals refused to quit and didn’t deflate. The team continued to attack the Eclipse backline and was rewarded for their efforts in the 61st minute.
Internationals put multiple shots on net, but all were saved. When a rebound looked like it was going to go out of bounds, in a desperate attempt to keep the ball in play, Erica Zschuppe knocked it high into the air toward the goal. It deflected off into the net, cutting the lead to 2-1.
Internationals were back in the contest.
The team then had two chances back to back with free kicks just outside the penalty box. On both kicks, the Internationals shot went just over the crossbar, with Eclipse relieved to keep the score at 2-1.
“It was difficult to play exactly the way you wanted,” said Coach Marc McElligott. “There were times when you were just trying to manage what was going on and just limit damage at times rather than doing what you would normally do. When Internationals started to really generate chances, that’s what we were doing, just trying to limit the damage.”
Using the momentum from surviving both free kicks, Eclipse expanded its lead to 3-1 in the 69th minute as Rodriguez netted her second goal of the contest.
Eclipse earned a free kick near midfield, which the team put into the box. While the service was cleared, it went right to Rodriguez, standing near the right corner of the box. She blistered a shot that ricocheted into the net for the 3-1 lead.
Internationals continued to dominate possession looking for any attempt to erase a two-goal deficit. The team kept pushing and pushing, eventually earning that opportunity in the 81st minute.
Due to the constant pressure from the Internationals attack, Eclipse committed a foul inside the box, giving Internationals a penalty kick with just nine minutes remaining. Meredith Coloian walked up to the spot, took a deep breath and then kicked. Her shot went low and to the right, and though Eclipse’s goalkeeper Lauren Boafo guessed correctly and dove to the same side, the shot went under her and into the net, making it a 3-2 contest.
In the final nine minutes, Internationals searched for one more goal. Earning multiple free-kicks in close range, the team even brought its goalkeeper into the play to help find an equalizer.
However, the Eclipse defense bent but never broke.
The final whistle sounded.
And after multiple seasons of close shots and near misses, Eclipse Select SC were finally champions.
“For this group, because we’ve been together for so long and have been so close so many times, it feels like this is just more than just this season,” McElligott said. “It’s like the culmination of this team’s entire history, all the way from when we were 13s and starting together. It feels extra special because they’ve come so close so many times, to finally get over the finish line, it was just amazing.
“And what an incredible game and playoffs from Internationals. I don’t think we’ve ever been tested like that. We’ve played a lot of great teams over the years and they were one of the best. It’s unfortunate there had to be a loser in this game because they deserved to win just as much as we did.”
“I’ve been waiting, we’ve been waiting, eight years for this,” added captain Emma Phillips. “And we’ve been thinking about that game for the past four years now. So to win today, there’s no feeling like it. I’m just so proud of every single person on that field. We’ve been together for so long, I just couldn’t be prouder of them. It was worth the wait.”
Worth the wait indeed.
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To view the complete scores and schedules for the ECNL National Playoffs, click here.