ECNL PHOENIX CLUB COMPETITION DAY 1 RECAP: THE SISTERHOOD
Goals, Goals, Goals
At the U15 ECNL Girls National Selection Game, there was no shortage of action.
The two teams, featuring some of the best and brightest within the age group, accounted for eight goals and seven lead changes in the 90-minute contest.
Nicole Kim opened the scoring about 15 minutes into the contest, putting Team West on the board early in the first half, but her goal was met with a tally by Amelia Bray just minutes later. Even at 1-1, Team West marched back down the field, applying pressure, and Avery Oder was there to put her shot into the back of the net, putting Team West back in the lead by a score of 2-1.
“It was very high intensity the entire game,” Oder said. “The West team played very well. We scored our goals. When I scored, it was crazy. I loved that all my teammates made signs for me and my other teammate who played today.”
The two teams peppered each other with shots, but the goalkeepers kept the ball out of the net. The sidelines were ready to burst at another goal, but it would have to wait until the second half, as Team West headed into the break ahead 2-1.
Following halftime, Team East earned a penalty kick early in the frame, and Elhom Khursand left no doubt, putting her shot into the top right corner to make it a 2-2 game.
Even once again, Team West responded moments later, when Annie Gnidula found the back of the net with her shot, giving her side its third lead of the game.
Once again, the two sides settled in for a brief stretch of midfield play, but then exploded for offense, notching three goals in quick succession.
First up was Team East, knotting the game at 3-3, but Team West immediately countered, making it a 4-3 game just 30 seconds later. But icing the game was Kim, poking a shot into the top of the net to give Team West the 5-3 lead. Her goal was the eventual game-winner, as the final whistle sounded minutes later.
With so much offense and an incredible pace to the contest, it’s not a game either side is going to forget.
“This National Selection Game was so much fun,” Oder said. I loved the environment and all the fans that were on top of the field. It was so exciting. I loved meeting new people from across the country. My coaches were amazing too.”
“I’m just really grateful that I had the opportunity to play this game,” Kim said. “A lot more people came to watch the game than I expected and it just felt really cool being able to play in front of so many people. I was super hyped when I scored those goals and it felt so great to get the win.”
Much like the U15s National Selection Game, the U16/17 NSG had some fireworks in the first half. The two sides combined for four goals in 45 minutes, racing up and down the pitch, doing their best to outwork their opponents.
Early in the first half, Team East jumped out to the 1-0 lead as Courtney Jones popped a shot into the back of the net to give the girls in blue the advantage. Team East then built an attack quickly after the initial goal to double its lead.
Team East sprinted down the left side of the pitch, getting deep inside the attacking third before putting a shot from out wide on net. The Team West goalkeeper made the first stop, but Madison Shumate was waiting at the back post for the rebound. She headed home the loose ball into an open net, and Team East had the 2-0 advantage.
However, quickly following Team East’s goal, Team West got on the board off a shot from Olivia Walinski, beating the goalkeeper to make it a 2-1 game.
The sides seemed to be heading for a 2-1 halftime score, but just before the whistle, Melina Rebimbas had the ball at her feet. She rifled a shot into the back of the net, and Team East took a 3-1 lead into the break.
“Scoring in the NSG was the coolest thing ever,” Rebimbas said. “Having all these people shouting my name and being so happy for me, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. It was great.”
Following halftime, Team East hunkered down, playing patient soccer and mixing counterattacks with steady defensive play. Team West slowly started building possession and spending more and more time in Team East’s defensive third, but each time, Team East stood tall.
Team East and Team West traded chances throughout the half, but as the minutes wore down, neither side was able to find the back of the net once more.
At the final whistle, Team East took a hard-fought and well-earned 3-1 victory against Team West.
For Rebimbas, it will be the atmosphere that sticks with her from this game. It was exciting to be a part of a contest like this one, but it was the support that was shown from everyone in attendance that really is what makes the NSG special.
“I’ve never been a part of a crowd like that one that was so into the game and so crazy,” Rebimbas said. “Just constant cheering. It did not matter what was going on, there was always someone yelling. And I think that’s the coolest part about the ECNL. We’re all sisters here. We showed that tonight. And it was awesome to be a part of.”