The ECNL, a national girls club soccer organization backed by Nike and Gatorade, aims to give young players a chance to hone their skills at the highest level against the best competition.
For a number of local players on the Stars of Massachusetts U14 club, the trip to Virginia for the ECNL national finals last month felt like the Super Bowl.
Held in Virginia, the event featured tournament of the top club soccer teams in the country for various age groups. Some of them had to qualify in another tournament, held earlier in Colorado, but the U14 group qualified based on the regular season alone. That sent the Stars, who practice in Acton, to the national stage.
“The atmosphere was amazing,” said Kate Drohosky, who is from Boxford and plays defense (left of center back). “There were tents with merchandise and products for the all the players (from Nike and Gatorade) and the competition was the best, which is my favorite type of soccer. The play was fast and you had to stay switched on the entire 80 minutes.”
The Stars wound up defeating Charlotte Academy, 3-0, in their first game and topping Colorado Storm, 2-1, in the second. They lost a semi-final to PDA, 3-0, and fell in the consolation game, 3-2, to San Diego Surf, to finish fourth in the nation.
“The pace of the games was definitely faster,” said Taylor O’Connor, a goalie from Danvers. “Skill wasn’t what surprised us the most, it was the amount of stamina the other teams had. There was never a part of the game where teams started slowing down.”
For many of the U14 players, nationals was the first time to see clubs beyond the East coast. The atmosphere of competition and also mutual admiration made an impression.
“Each team was so different, but at the same time everyone is so respectful,” said Lucie Poulin, a midfielder from Marblehead. “We play PDA a lot and I always saw them as the best, and to go to nationals and see so many good teams, and know that we’re among them, you gain a lot of respect.”