STARS SHINE IN NATIONAL SELECTION GAMES AT ECNL SAN DIEGO
After a gap of more than 15 months, the ECNL once again hosted a National Selection game. In fact, at ECNL San Diego, the league actually hosted two.
And what transpired was two highly competitive games in front of thousands of teammates, families, friends, scouts and other onlookers.
Field 6 at Surf Cup Sports Complex featured the U16/17s, while Field 7 featured the U18/19s. Broken up into Team East and Team West, both sides showed incredible composure, pace, passing, creativity, and gave all those watching a show.
As is natural with teams featuring some the best players from the age groups, the two sides opened the game feeling each other out, testing where the soft spots in the defense may be and where the best point of attack is. Both teams also needed to settle into their own game plan, as the all-star squads had never played together before.
But that’s all part of what makes the National Selection game so special.
It seemed like both games were headed for a 0-0 halftime score, but then two goals back to back changed the tide.
In the U18/19 National Selection Game, Team East drew a foul just outside the 18-yard box. Defender Isabel Stratton isn’t used to taking many free-kicks that close to the goal, but she wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity. Stepping up to the ball, she launched a rocket into the top left corner of the net.
The keeper never stood a chance.
“I normally don’t take those types of kicks, but I saw it and was like, ‘I want it,’” Stratton said. “I went right up to it and let it rip. Scoring that goal was the best feeling in the world. That’s why you play soccer, that feeling.”
Meanwhile, on Field 6, Team West pulled ahead just ahead of the halftime whistle. Adeleine Walick created a run into the box before putting a shot on net. The East goalkeeper made the save, but the rebound came right to Alicia Riggins, who left no doubt when she drilled a shot into the top left corner.
“I just turned and finished it with my left foot,” Riggins said. “I couldn’t believe it when I scored. I was so excited. Just so happy in that moment.”
At halftime, Team East led the U18/19 National Selection Game, while Team West led the U16/17 contest.
Coming out of the break, Team East continued to build scoring chance after scoring chance in the U16/17 contest, while Team West was content trading each punch with a counter punch. The ball bounced back and forth across the pitch, and with each scoring chance came increased drama.
Back over on Field 7 in the U18/19 National Selection Game, Team West was determined to even the score. The team slowly started chipping away at the Team East defense, until finally, West was able to break through.
Kaylee Hauck was inside the 18-yard box when a cross came in right to her feet. At the encouragement of her teammates, she ripped a shot on net, beating the keeper to knot the game at 1-1.
“One of the girls behind me kept yelling, ‘Shoot it! Shoot it!’” Hauck said. “As soon as the ball came across and I hit it, it was the best feeling ever.”
Armed with a 1-1 score, both sides doubled their efforts to regain the lead. Each scoring chance created another, but neither team could find the go-ahead tally. When the final whistle blew, both teams had given it their all, a testament to how even both squads were.
As the U18/19 National Selection Game was winding down, so too was the U16/17 contest with team West still holding a 1-0 lead. As Team East became more and more desperate, Team West continually thwarted every scoring attempt, and at the final whistle, Team West had a hard-earned victory and shutout.
The National Selection Game serves as a highlight for every player that participated in the event, and for most, it’s not the result that they’ll remember, but sharing the field with so many of their opponents, for once, as teammates.
“Today was so great because I’ve seen girls I’ve played against, so it was amazing to get to know them more,” said Ellie Fife. “That’s what I’m going to remember, getting to know the girls and just having a great experience playing with people I don’t normally get the chance to play with.”