The winter months are a down time for the Elite Clubs National League, as only a handful of matches were played January and February. But next weekend’s national event in San Antonio will spark life back into the league, as 36 clubs head south for warmer weather.
A week ahead of that event, ESPNHS takes a look at Ten Teams to Watch on the ECNL schedule this spring. From established national powerhouses to young and upcoming clubs, these squads look to make waves in the months ahead.
Last year’s national championship runners up are favorites to return to the title game this year, but will first have to survive a tough conference slate. The Northeast Conference is packed with talent, including PDA’s nemesis FC Stars of Massachusetts and Scorpions SC. PDA will face these teams back-to-back on two different occasions this spring before hosting their own national event in May. PDA will rely on Notre Dame-bound Stephanie Campo and West Virginia-signee Carly Black to continue last year’s impenetrable defense, and look for Rutgers-commit Rachel Cole to ignite the offense.
U18 SC del Sol
This team has their work cut out for them next week in Texas. They’ll take on first place Michigan Hawks, then have to battle Solar-Chelsea and Minnesota Thunder on three consecutive days. But SC del Sol has proven their mettle this season, taking big wins over top teams with the help of Cali Farquharson’s 18 goals in 12 games. After splitting with both Colorado Rush and Real Colorado, they currently sit in second place in the Mountain West Conference. They’ll have to have a strong spring if they want to overtake those squads for first.
U18 Crossfire Premier
National team player Isabelle Farrell and Oregon State commit Laura Rayfield make this one of the most talented midfields in the game today. These two have helped this Crossfire Premier squad mature into a top competitor in the Northwest Conference, and look to add an ECNL title to a trophy case that already includes Washington State Cup championships and a Region IV crown. Due to high school schedule, this squad hasn’t played a single ECNL game yet. Their first matches come next weekend in San Antonio against Carmel United and Dallas Sting, then they head home to take on in-state rival Washington Premier in March.
U17 Carmel United
It’s a team that has always boasted great defense. Last year, their Challenge B National Championship came from having the lowest goals against average in the entire ECNL. This year, they continue to average less than one goal allowed per game. Goalkeeper Elizabeth James, who has verbally committed to Dayton, has been a big part of the team’s success. Keep a close eye out for an early March matchup with Michigan Hawks, a team that averages better than 3.5 goals per game offensively. This high-powered offense vs. brick-wall defense could have major implications on Midwest Conference standings.
U17 Scorpions SC
You’ve heard their names by now. Madison Meehan and McKenzie Meehan are the twin-bill talk of the town in high school soccer, and their influence stretches well into the ECNL. The identical twins, who haven’t lost a game in four years at La Salle Academy (Providence, R.I.) are both headed to Boston College next year. And together with forward Andrea O’Brien, they make this Scorpions team a hard one to beat, and a fun one to watch. The Scorpions currently sit at the top of the National Flight A standings, but will face a test in their next game in March against PDA. With two matches against the New Jersey club, and one against FC Stars of Mass, Scorpions is primed to establish superiority in the Northeast.
The Mid-Atlantic also has a fair share of strong teams. Bethesda SC will have to work hard to catch FC Virginia for first place this spring and that all starts with a match this weekend in Clifton, Va. If Bethesda can pull out a win against the first place squad, it could spark a comeback. To do that they’ll need both ends of the pitch at the top of their game, from Miami-bound forward Cortney O’Connell to future Syracuse goalkeeper Lindsay Destefano. With games against KCFC and Michigan Hawks right around the corner in Texas, this weekend’s match could play a vital role in Mid-Atlantic Conference standings.
U16 Washington Premier
Washington Premier opened their ECNL season at the Sanford event in December, beginning with a 4-2 win over Penn Fusion in the first match. Forward Mariah Lee, a Regional ODP player and former National Team player, notched two goals in that match, and will look to continue her offensive prowess in Texas. The team faces in-state rival Crossfire Premier twice in March, and was winless against that squad last season. They’ll also have two early June games with San Juan SC, a team that gave them trouble last year.
U16 FC DELCO
This team that started 3-0 won’t be competing in Texas next weekend – the bulk of their ECNL schedule doesn’t kick in until March. But as soon as it does, we’ll know what they have to offer. Delco's first two games pit them against McLean and Richmond Strikers, who sit near the top of the Mid-Atlantic Conference. Midfielder Aley Kate McKinley and forward Kayla Smith each had a goal apiece in their first two matches, and will look to lead Delco in conference play. Fellow Pennsylvania squads Penn Fusion and FC Bucks also provide competition in the Mid-Atlantic.
Sereno sits atop the National Flight B standings, undefeated against opponents at that classification. But a few teams inside the Mountain West Conference have given them trouble. They split with Colorado Rush and were unable to beat Real Colorado in two attempts. This team stands out largely because of two midfielders Tessa Zaccagnio and Ky Escobedo, who lead the team in scoring. Zaccagnio and Escobedo together have scored 16 goals in Sereno’s 11 games this season, and will need to stay hot with a heavy March/April slate.
U15 Freestate Alliance
In their last two games, Freestate has scored six goals. Forward Paige DeLoach has five of them. DeLoach is a quick-footed striker with ODP experience and the stats to back it up. And perhaps her greatest attribute stands just a few feet away. Midfielder Sophia Centi has assisted four of those goals. It’s all part of a Freestate squad that is 3-0, and out to set a new standard for the Maryland club. It will be a busy spring for Freestate, especially in April when they play six games in a span of 16 days. But if they can achieve success against teams like FC Bucks and Bethesda, this could be a Mid-Atlantic Conference title team.