Ekic Sees Time with USWNT U23s
I'll bet you didn't think I could do yet another women's soccer article this week. You'd be wrong. It's summer time. Nothing else is going on. I'm allowed to write about what I want, and the USWNT just knocked off their biggest challenger in their World Cup title defense. I've still got soccer on my mind. This week, though, I wanted to put some focus on a Louisville player that may very well see herself on this stage at some point in her career.
We've talked about Emina Ekic at length ever since she committed to the Cards. Ekic was born and raised here in Louisville, and her high school soccer field at Manual was not far from where she plies her trade now. She has been critical to Louisville's success since joining the team and her success has been noted by conference and national honors. Apparently, her success has also been noticed by the US Soccer Federation. Earlier this spring, Ekic was invited to camp with the US Women's National Team U23 squad in Portland, Oregon. Only 19 at the time (she turned 20 this month), Ekic was playing well above her class in games against current NWSL teams. We didn't give this much coverage as it happened in late March/early April and something else pretty major was going on around that time. Can't quite put my finger on it.
Over the camp period, the U23s competed against Reign FC (Seattle), the Portland Thorns, and the Chicago Red Stars, going 2-1 in that time. Ekic saw very limited time in the "tournament", logging 17 minutes against the Red Stars in the final game. They were her only game minutes during the camp, but the U23s did score a stoppage time winner with Ekic on the field in that game. Considering the team scored only four goals in the three games, I would say that being on the field for a quarter of those goals isn't too bad.
The primary benefit for Ekic in this situation is not the game time. Sure it would be nice for her to have gotten more, but this is surely far from the last time she will camp with the USWNT. Ekic's first invitation came just before her freshman season at UofL. Having just turned 18, Ekic traveled to the Czech Republic to compete with the U19s, again competing above her class. She started both of the games the US played on the trip. Given her past invites, her college credentials, and the willingness of US Soccer to bring her up, Ekic is in a fine position going forward.
Of course, the USWNT pipeline is loaded with talent. This is why the USWNT is dominant on the world stage. Soccer is bigger for women here, especially in the youth stages, than it is in most other places throughout the world. Other countries are catching up, to be sure, and that is partially due to FIFA's encouragement of the growth of the sport. It's a good thing for everyone, but it means that being very, very good may not be enough to make it here. A number of international players make their teams because they are a very good player that does not compete domestically but has eligibility to compete for their country. In fact, Thailand's team in this world cup was the only team that had every member of the squad compete in the domestic professional league. That is not the case for US born players. The competition is fierce to be able to get to the same stage on which players like Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, and Alex Morgan compete.
Could Ekic be that next big star to wear the stars and stripes? Of course she could. All signs point to her being in the good graces of US Soccer and we've seen what she can do here at UofL. All we can hope for is that her experiences against greater competition continue to help her improve her game individually and help the Louisville Cardinals improve. Last season, Ekic finished with 19 points on 7 goals and 5 assists. Her points, goals, and shot percentages were topped only by forwards Brooklynn Rivers and Maisie Whitsett. Her assists were third behind only Rivers and Allison Whitfield. She controlled the field from the center midfield position and will continue to do so as given the opportunity. I'm looking forward to year three.
Cardinal Couple Radio Hour
As Jared mentioned yesterday, his long stretch run on the radio must end as work finally calls him back. We'll carry on without him this week as Paulie returns from his vacation to bring Jeff and me the first mascot quiz of the season. We're still heavy in the summer slump so we'll bring more professional news, fall season prognostications, and weird happenings around campus. As they say during the offseason, "no news is good news", but Louisville has already appeared in the headlines a couple of times this week. Tune in to WCHQ this morning at 11AM for the Cardinal Couple Radio Hour. WCHQ is available at 100.9 FM, wchqfm.com, the WCHQ App, and Facebook Live.
Until next time, Go Cards!