This season, ECNL Girls introduced the first three national events in history for the ECNL Regional League. A landmark in the club competition, these national events bring together the top teams from all different age groups into a single complex with hundreds of spectators, college scouts and fellow players and families in attendance. 

ECNL Arizona marked the third and final Regional League national event of the 2022-23 calendar, but for many, the event was unlike anything they had ever attended before. 

One of those teams was the LAFC So Cal U15 team. The U15s are the youngest age group at ECNL Arizona, so they’re getting their first taste of ECNL national events. 

They were blown away. 

LAFC So Cal battled PDA to a 1-1 draw Friday morning, starting slow but ultimately earning the draw with a late-game tally. The game was a microcosm of their season so far this year: a slow start, but momentum is building. Which is why ECNL Arizona has come at the perfect time for the club; it presents a chance for the team to come together on the road and team build as they chase a spot in the Regional League Championships. 

“It was super exciting to be back out on the field,” said defender Sophia Wight. “Everyone really worked hard today. But this is just the start, we’re going to keep going up from here.” 

One of the coolest parts of ECNL Arizona so far for LAFC So Cal was being able to face off against PDA White, a club completely across the country. Different playing styles, different lifestyles, those clashes are only possible at events such as ECNL Arizona. 

“Traveling here as a team and just seeing the top girls teams in one place, everyone is just so competitive,” said center midfielder Maddie Shapiro. 

“At the beginning of the game I asked what team we were playing and where they were from,” added Wight. “We found out they were from New Jersey and we’re from California. That’s crazy.”

“We get a feel for different talents and different teams. It’s so cool,” concluded center forward Sage Seaman.”

The Portland Thorns U16 squad faced off against Phoenix Rising at 12:30 p.m. Friday, and earned the 1-1 result. It was their first bit of soccer since December, and ECNL Arizona gives the squad the chance to get back into form before closing out their regular season in May. 

“The competition here has been really good,” said midfielder Zamara Peterson. “You look at every field and every one has a good game.” 

Along with team bonding and being able to play three games in three days against good teams, the thing Peterson was looking forward to the most was the merch. 

“The best part of the national events is the merch,” Peterson said. “Come for the heat, stay for the hoodies.”

Solar SC’s U15 team also experienced their first national event at ECNL Arizona, and they started the event with some fireworks. Tied 2-2 late in their opening contest, Solar SC scored a goal in the dying minutes to go up 3-2. Their opponent, LA Breakers, earned a corner kick just one minute later, and pushed everyone forward, including the goalkeeper. Solar SC defused the attack and then countered, nearly adding the insurance goal. But a chase down shot block kept the ball out of the net, but the final whistle sounded and the team took the 3-2 victory. 

“That was a great way to end our first game out here,” said center forward Jillian Cook. “I’m really excited we were able to score and get the win.”

Starting their first national event in such a memorable manner sets a high bar for the future, especially against a strong LA Breakers club. Games like that are great for team bonding, and that camaraderie is what Cook loves about her team the most. 

“I love playing with my team and just making connections that’ll last a lifetime,” Cook said. “Like, I don’t think I’ve had bonds like this on the field and off the field before. It’s super fun to be able to make those connections with my teammates.”

For Cook, from the moment she arrived at the Legacy Sports Complex, she was in awe. It carried over onto the field, playing against a club she had never faced before. 

“This has been super fun so far,” Cook said. “This is my first event and we haven’t been able to do tournaments like this before. Walking into the stadium, it was kind of intimidating. But I’m very grateful to be a part of an event like this.” 

Next up for the Regional League is the Regional League Championships and Finals. And with more clubs joining the ECNL Girls Regional League for the 2022-23 season, national events such as ECNL Arizona will continue to bring out the best in ECNL athletes and foster unforgettable memories and friendships.