Friday was the final day of the ECNL Boys National Playoffs making it one of the most exciting days of the season. Not only did the teams redeem their tickets to St. Louis for the ECNL Boys National Finals in St. Louis, but the league also gave out Regional League Championship trophies in each age group.
See below which teams have reached the national finals, as well as a recap of Thursday’s U19 title games – and the Regionalliga champions.
U13: Crossfire Premier, San Diego Surf, STA, Legends FC, Pateadores, NTH-NASA, Pipeline SC, Richmond United
U14: Utah Avalanche, SDSC Surf, World Class FC, Heat FC, Seattle United, Beach FC, Dallas Texans Academy, LAFC So Cal
U15: Dallas Texans Academy, Pipeline SC, DKSC, Dallas FC, NTH-NASA, Louisville City Academy, Heat FC, San Diego Surf
U16: Pipeline SC, Arlington Soccer, Eclipse Select SC, Dallas FC, CESA, Pateadores, Nationals SC, OK Energy FC
U17: South Carolina United, Match Fit Academy, Pipeline SC, Dallas Texans Academy, NCFC Youth Academy, Pateadores, San Diego Surf, FC Dallas
Review of the U19 Champions League
Two teams entered the field for the U18/19 Championship game between NTH-NASA and Crossfire Premier. Only one would walk away as a national champion.
With some of the biggest crowds of the tournament on hand and each club with multiple fan areas filled with parents and other teams from the club, the two teams started Thursday morning just 90 minutes from glory.
NTH-NASA and Crossfire Premier started the game to try each other out. With plenty of midfield play, the two teams came into play methodically, trying to find exploits and not doing too much to expose themselves in defence. While there were scoring chances at both ends, it was the defense that did the heavy lifting in the opening 30 minutes of the game.
However, as the first half subsided, it was NTH-NASA that hit first. Joshua Acevedo fought for a 50-50 ball in the box, went down and flicked the ball past the keeper to give the Atlanta side a 1-0 lead.
NTH-NASA continued its momentum until the end of the first half, maintaining a 1-0 lead with just 45 minutes to go.
Crossfire Premier fired in the second half and it didn’t take long for the score to be 1-1. Crossfire’s Ethan Pederson smashed into the net on an early chance and headed the ball into the net to equalize, starting a fire among his side.
Just a few minutes later, the team took a 2-1 lead, securing their first competitive advantage. After a free kick, the service went into the penalty area, where Jackson Heisler directed the pass into the net on goal.
Crossfire Premier kept pushing forward, sending bodies into the box, and eventually that commitment to the offensive paid off. After a foul in the penalty area, Jack Civitts took penalties. He shot right, and while the NTH-NASA goalie got his hands on the try, it wasn’t enough and Crossfire led 3-1.
With five minutes left and after several chances on the Crossfire goalie, NTH-NASA reduced the deficit to 3-2 when Damian Segura converted a penalty. With just five minutes left, could NTH-NASA have been able to complete the comeback?
The answer is yes. In stoppage time, just seconds before the final whistle, Sam Hill slipped in from a corner kick with little resistance, bringing the score to 3-3 and forcing the game into overtime.
In two halves of 20 minutes, both teams tried to create chances, but the defense stood upright and limited any possible scoring opportunity for the opposing attack. This was not a game that would be decided in overtime; it was intended for PKs.
PKs can be a very stressful time for both shooters and goalies. For Crossfire’s Jackson Ozburn, this is where he thrives.
In the first two rounds, Crossfire Premier scored with his two shots while NTH-NASA failed to convert. With just one goal and one save, Crossfire Premier scored his third goal.
Now, with hundreds of fans and scouts watching, Ozburn and Crossfire Premier were just one parade away from a national championship.
NTH-NASA’s shooter aimed for a chip shot to the top left corner. Ozburn dove left and spread his arms. The ball bounced off his hands and off the goal line.
Crossfire Premier won. They were national champions.
“We worked hard all year to get to this moment and it finally paid off,” said Crossfire Premier head coach Bernie James. “Ozburn has been great all week, saving eight out of 10 penalties along the way. It was a great weekend of great competition and congratulations and thanks to ECNL for organizing a fantastic tournament. We’re going home with a trophy and I couldn’t be prouder of my team.”
Regional league champions
U13: Richmond Strikers
U14: Beach FC
U15: Stafford football
U16: Solar SC
U17: Slammer FC
U18/19: Albion hurricanes