ECNL HOUSTON DAY 1 RECAP: FIREWORKS ON THE FIELD

ECNL Houston held its two National Selection Game matches Saturday night at Meyer Park, bringing together some of the best and brightest from the U15-U17 age groups under the lights, and the athletes did not disappoint. The two games featured double-digit goals, big saves and incredible play, all in front of hundreds of on-lookers. 

U15 National Selection Game

Team West wasted no time in bringing the heat at ENCL Houston, as Emma Johnson (Indiana Fire Juniors) put her squad ahead 1-0 with a quick shot that found the back of the net just minutes into the contest. Team East made sure to respond just as quickly, tying the game at 1-1 when St. Louis Scott Gallagher’s Alex Pfeiffer buried a rebound. 

Two goals in less than 10 minutes of gameplay. Talk about a quick start. 

The two sides continued to trade scoring chances, racing down to each side of the pitch just to be thwarted before the ball could end up in the net. However, Team East potted its second of the game as the half wound down, taking that 2-1 lead into the break.  

In the second half, Team East earned itself a majority of the possession and scoring chances, determined to increase its scoring lead. East kept knocking on the door, but Team West employed a bend-but-don’t-break defense, clearing the ball out of the danger areas before it was too late. 

As the second half continued to tick away, Team East was finally awarded for their efforts, potting two goals in quick succession to take a commanding 4-1 lead, which it held until the final whistle. 

“It was a very different but really great environment,” said Addison Stendera from Pacific Northwest. “So much fun to play with the best people and have a bunch more fans than normal. And as a team who had never played together, the chemistry was there. We scored one and then just kept scoring until we won.”

U16/17 National Selection Game

On Field 23, Team East also jumped out to a quick lead, capitalizing on a long run from deep in its own third to take a 1-0 lead. Armed with its lead, Team East continued to keep Team West back on its heels, eventually padding its goal total even more. 

Midway through the half, Addie Whitehouse (Real Colorado) took a shot near the 18-yard box that deflected off a Team West defender before finding its way into the back of the net, doubling Team East’s lead to 2-0. And then right before the halftime whistle, Kennedy Fuller from Solar SC corralled a loose ball and snuck a shot under the goalkeeper, putting Team East ahead 3-0 through the first 45. 

“Even though we just met today, our connection was super strong,” said Aliyah Dockter from Seattle United. “We were just able to connect on the field and work together. Even though we had only been together for a couple of hours, it just clicked and worked really well.”

Despite the deficit, Team West was by no means out for the count. Just minutes into the second half, Team West got on the board when Zoe Main (Albion Hurricanes FC) raced down the right side of the pitch and beat the keeper for the goal. 

With momentum building, Team West kept pushing numbers forward, putting a great amount of pressure on the Team East backline. Eventually, that pressure forced another break. 

Earning a corner kick from the right side, Team West put a service into the six-yard box. FC Dallas’ Mia Gildea leaped into the air, higher than anyone else, and got her head on the pass to knock it into the back of the net, bringing the game to 3-2. 

“It was all hard work and dedication from our team,” Main said. “It felt like a college atmosphere, people screaming and everyone hyping you up, it was really exciting.”

Now with the pressure really mounting, it was time for Team East to push back. The squad earned a free-kick just outside the 18-yard box, but on the ensuing set-piece, two scoring chances went directly into the wall, and Team West cleared the ball. 

The 3-2 score held into the final minutes of the contest, when Team West had its final chance of the game. Team East successfully defended a corner kick, but on the clear, Team West won the ball again. The attack put a great shot on net, but it clanked off the right post before being swallowed up by the goalkeeper. Just seconds later the final whistle blew and Team East had held on for the 3-2 victory. 

“This was just a really fun experience,” Dockter said. “It was a great game and good competition. Having your teammates on the sidelines, everybody’s cheering for you, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in this National Selection Game. It was so much fun.”  


To view the complete scores and schedules from ECNL Houston, click here