Published: March 15, 2012
Last year, the SoCal U15 Conference pulled off something no other conference in any age group in the ECNL could – it placed three teams in the top seven of the final National Flight A standings.
“It is a very deep age group,” West Coast FC U16 head coach Gus Castaneda told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “Every team [in the conference] seems to have at least one national-level player.”
And somehow the conference got stronger in the offseason with the addition of So Cal Blues to the ECNL.
“Blues coming into the league this year definitely adds to the competitiveness,” Castaneda added.
The Blues have enjoyed a positive spell to start their first season in the ECNL. The team currently sits top of the table in the conference and the National Flight A Standings. Led by U15 national team defender Indigo Gibson, the Blues have registered five shutouts in 10 games this season.
Castaneda also highlighted Real So Cal as another team that is among the best in the nation.
“Real So Cal, which came in last year, is a very good team,” Castaneda added. “Those four [San Diego Surf, Slammers, Real So Cal, and Blues] are all capable of winning the whole thing at the end of the year.”
Real So Cal barely missed out on promotion to Flight A in its debut ECNL season last year. This year, the team remains at the top of the table in Flight B behind the play of midfielder and University of Colorado commit Hannah Dearborn.
The two teams that finished fourth and seventh in the nation last year, Slammers and San Diego Surf, also are challenging for the title in the SoCal Division.
“There is no question that the Slammers have a very talented player in Kayla Mills,” Castaneda said while discussing some of the top players in this division.
Mills, who has already given her verbal commit to USC, has four goals and two assists on the season. She has also made appearances with the U17 Women’s National Team recently.
The West Coast FC coach also highlighted Pilar Torres of the San Diego Surf. Torres scored all three goals in the semifinal and final for Cal South in the Olympic Development Program national championships last weekend. She has three goals and four assists for the Surf in ECNL play this season.
Even with all this competition, West Coast FC U16 still looks ripe for a return trip to the national event and hopes of claiming the ultimate hardware this year after coming so close last year.
“I think we will definitely be poised to make a run at improving on the third place finish,” Castaneda said. “Chloe Hemingway will be coming off recovery from her ACL injury by that time and I think we will be very healthy and fit to make a run at it.”
Hemingway is a defender who has appeared with the U15 national team in the past and has already given her verbal commitment to UCLA for 2014.
The defender is not the only WCFC player to make an early commitment. Forward Nosakhare Ogiamien recently gave her verbal commitment to USC for 2013. Goalkeeper Mikaela Berger is committed to Hawaii and Danielle Mellem is committed to University of Charleston. And the two other juniors are also close to making their college choices.
The coach attributes the success of the team to the group as a whole, and not to any one player.
“The thing about girls soccer, and teams that are very successful, is that you can’t have one superstar,” Castaneda said. “You have to play as a team. That has made this team special; we don’t have a superstar, we play hard as a team.”
Castaneda’s group will be back in action this weekend with a rematch against Eagles Soccer Club, which beat them last weekend. Eagles are fifth in the conference, directly behind WCFC.
Players to watch SoCal Conference U16 ECNL:
Indigo Gibson, defender, So Cal Blues – The talented defender drew the praises of opposing coaches and has caught the eye of national team scouts in her first season in the ECNL.
Kayla Mills, forward, Slammers – The striker is perhaps the most dangerous player in the conference and continues to shine on a weekly basis against some of the best competition in the country.