REDMOND, Washington — The Crossfire Premier U18 team did something at the ECNL Playoffs on Friday no team in any competition has done in nearly two years.
They beat the Dallas Sting.
Despite playing on the back foot for much of the match, Crossfire scored three quick-strike goals on counter-attacks to shock the Sting 3-1 at 60 Acres Park just outside Seattle. While the U15, U16 and U17 teams kick off Saturday, Friday marked the second of three group match days at the finals for both U14 and U18 teams. After drawing its first match, Crossfire’s win over the Sting catapalted the team to a tie atop Group A.
Now, Crossfire is in prime position to win the group and advance to Monday’s semifinal round. While the hometown Crossfire have a remaining match against last-place Indiana Juniors, Sting, which has three points, faces FC Stars, which has four. Crossfire will win arguably the toughest group at the event with a blowout win or a Sting win or draw.
To say this wasn’t in the script is quite an understatement. This Sting group has been among the ECNL’s best teams for four years now as it’s moved up from the U15 level. Since losing at the ECNL Finals on July 11, 2013, this group of players hadn’t lost a match with the Sting in the ECNL. That changed on Friday.
The Sting established a dominant grip on the match early that lasted throughout, but they never led. Crossfire had zero shots on goal in the first half before Keagan Bolibol stuck home a cross for a surprising lead. Sting, though, answered within the minute via Julie James for a 1-1 game into halftime.
The second half was dominated by the Sting, who monopolized possession and had almost every chance. Crossfire had two, and they scored both of them. Jodi Ulkekul scored with about a half hour left, and as Dallas pushed everyone up, Crossfire snuck in one more before the final whistle to ice a tense and fascinating match.
FC Bucks U18 1-6 Michigan Hawks
Michigan Hawks turned in a dominant performance against injury-plagued FC Bucks in the teams’ second U18 group match on Friday. Forward Brenna Lovera scored a hat trick in a standout performance, while Maya Piper scored two goals of her own in the second half.
The scoring started early, with Lovera coolly putting away a cross from Alexis Warner on the left wing under defensive pressure. The Hawks continued pouring in shots from all angles and distances, also executing several dangerous short corners.
Peterson scored Michigan’s second of the game in the 31st minute, shooting from a central area after one of her team’s many combinations in the attack. The Hawks matched their attacking intensity on the other end of the field, remaining organized and difficult to break down defensively.
They went up 3-0 in the 53rd minute, with Maya Piper finally putting away another dangerous short corner. The Bucks scored right off the kickoff, though, through Leah Becker’s long central shot.
That only served to spark the Hawks’ attack, Lovera scoring her second of the game in the 69th minute by finishing another cross from the right flank. Michigan continued to keep the ball in the attacking half for much of the rest of the game, and Piper’s second in the 80th and Lovera completing her trio in the 88th finished off the scoring.
Michigan Hawks 1-1 Colorado Rush U14
Both of these teams entered Friday’s match with plenty to play for. Both won their openers on Thursday, putting them level on points with this match serving as a possible group decider for the winner. But ultimately it only pushed off the final judgment to the final match day, as they wrestled to a hard-fought draw.
The Hawks have recent history to defend in this competition. While it was a different cycle of players, the organization won the U14 national championship here in 2014. After they got off to a hot start in the opener, the Hawks looked again to wrest total control from the outset. Over the first 20 minutes against the Rush, the Hawks controlled the flow as Colorado struggled to cope with numbers in the midfield.
After a tight first half, the game opened up like an aged wine in the second. About 15 minutes into the second stanza, attacking midfielder Lilian Lucas turned on a loose ball just outside the box and zipped it into the lower left corner for the opening goal.
The Hawks might’ve expected that to be the winner the way it had pushed Colorado back into its own third, but Macy Clem delivered an absolute thunderplonker to level terms. With just 10 minutes left, Clem rocketed a golazo from 20 yards into the far upper right corner to draw level. The Hawks pushed for the winner, but the Rush’s resolute back line and organized midfield didn’t allow a breakthrough. As a result, the group is wide open headed into its final day.
CASL 1-2 SoCal Blues U14
After her team relinquished an early lead, Analisa Gjonovich won the match for SoCal Blues with a golazo free kick in the final minute of play against CASL. She lined up her shot from about 28 yards out, dead center, and rocketed the left-footed shot into the top corner to the goalkeeper’s right.
SoCal pressured early, winning a couple corner kicks in the opening moments of the game, and only needed five minutes to score its first goal. Maesyn G’Bye cut inside from the left wing to hit a long shot back across goal and inside the far post.
CASL began a resurgence at the start of the second half, though. Forward Hannah Arostegui provided the most frequent threat, taking on defenders on the dribble and shooting frequently as soon as she caught sight of goal.
Initially failing to foray deep into SoCal’s half, CASL began to win more corner kicks and get closer and closer to goal. The equalizer finally came just after the hour mark.
Mattie Murphy served most of her corner kicks into the near-post space, and Haleigh Stackpole finally connected with one of her crosses in the 61st minute. Camryn Dixon nearly gave CASL its own lead seven minutes later on another corner, but her header looped just over the crossbar.
SoCal found its legs again toward the end of the match, with Gjonovich hitting a shot just over a couple minutes before her free-kick strike. When her team won that dangerous set piece in the dying moments of the game, she stepped up and put it away to cap the late push.