RICHMOND, Virginia — While his PDA U15 side carefully built its lead against Texas Rush on Wednesday, coach Larry Hart kept one eye firmly locked on the field next door. PDA couldn’t merely get through with a win. It needed results elsewhere to fall.
Shortly before the whistle blew for time in PDA’s 4-1 victory, Hart got the news he wanted. So Cal Blues lost 3-2 to West Coast FC, meaning PDA and WCFC both vaulted the Blues, and PDA was through on goal differential. It was a nervy half hour to the finish line, but PDA is back in its second consecutive U15 ECNL title game as a result.
“It’s nerve-racking when you leave anything up to chance,” Hart said. “You don’t like that as a coach and a player, because you can’t control your destiny. But we tell our players is all you can control is what you do when you cross the lines in a game that matters, which was today.”
PDA and West Coast FC both entered Wednesday’s final round of ECNL Finals group games on two points, and So Cal Blues led with four and a massive plus-6 goal differential. All the Blues needed from its match with WCFC was a draw and it was through to the final. While PDA built up a 3-1 lead by halftime, the Blues were in the final for about 10 minutes when Ashley Sanchez earned a penalty and converted for a 1-0 lead late in the first half.
The advantage didn’t last. Minutes later, WCFC equalized through Mikenna McManus, and a wonder strike from Sydney Cooper seconds before the halftime whistle blew flipped the script and put PDA in the final instead. That’s how it stayed until WCFC’s Madison Bennett punched in a third and Isabella Bellinghausen answered with a one-time rip to make it 3-2. A late scramble from So Cal Blues - including a last-second header that was cleared off the line - wasn’t enough, and PDA went through.
PDA will meet the San Diego Surf in Thursday’s U15 final. The Surf denied De Anza Force a chance to sneak into the championship game for a 2013 rematch when they drew the Albertson Fury 3-3 to win the group by a point. That means there will be a new champ this season after PDA lost in the final last year. PDA hasn’t lost an ECNL match since that final, so Thursday’s been a long time in the making.
“It’s been a goal of theirs for a very long time,” Hart said. “It comes up in training sessions all the time, to get back here.”
Eclipse Select puts two in title games, Dallas Sting push for title
It’s hard enough to put one team in a title game, but how about two? Eclipse Select won its group in both the U16 and U17 divisions, which means one program has a chance to win two titles in Richmond. Eclipse’s U16 group lost a slim 2-1 decision to PDA on Wednesday, but wins in its first two games and nobody else on six points meant they went through to the final. There, they’ll face the Dallas Texans, who nipped the Sting by a point to win the group thanks to a 2-1 win over crosstown rival FC Dallas.
In the U17 division, Eclipse engaged in another one of those nail-biting affairs where they were watching results on the field across the way. Eclipse, West Coast FC and San Diego Surf all entered the final group day within a point of one another and with a legitimate chance to advance. As both games stretched into the second half with no goals, the fate of the group was poised on a knife’s edge. A 1-0 result for any of those three teams paired with a scoreless draw in the other game would’ve pushed them through to the final.
Eclipse sprang the release valve first with a goal with about 15 minutes to play, and that was ultimately the group winner. WCFC got one back with a penalty just minutes later for matching 1-0 score lines on both fields, but they would’ve needed two more goals to make up the goal differential tiebreaker. Both results held, and Eclipse took its seven points to the final.
They’ll have quite the task once they get there. Only one team in Richmond took all nine points from its group games, and that was the Dallas Sting U17s. And Sting made it look easy, trouncing GSA 4-0, the Dallas Texans 4-0 and So Cal Blues 4-2 on Wednesday. That put them into the final with room to spare, and the nation’s top-ranked U17 side will be considered slight favorites to nip the result and take home hardware.
Wednesday’s full results:
De Anza Force 8-0 Real Colorado
Albertson Fury 3-3 San Diego Surf
Texas Rush 1-4 PDA
So Cal Blues 2-3 West Coast FC
Dallas Texans 2-1 FC Dallas
Dallas Sting 3-1 Slammers FC
Eclipse Select 1-2 PDA
Real Colorado 0-1 San Diego Surf
PDA 0-1 Eclipse Select
West Coast FC 1-0 San Diego Surf
GSA 0-4 Dallas Texans