When the Washington Metropolitan Area's only women's professional soccer franchise, the Washington Freedom, was suddenly uprooted last year after 10 seasons and moved to Florida, United Kingdom native and former professional soccer player David Jones saw an opportunity to build something special in the soccer-rich D.C. area.
He'd done it before: In 2005 he formed the Philadelphia Pirates and joined the nationwide Women's Premier Soccer League. That team eventually turned into the 2011 Women's Professional Soccer runner-up Philadelphia Independence. Jones was no longer affiliated with the club at that time, however.
When WPS announced this spring that it had closed operations after just three seasons, Jones' mission became even more important, he said.
In January, after 10 months of phone calls and recruiting, Jones' second WPSL venture began to take shape in the form of the Maryland Capitols.
“Soccer has really started to take hold the last 10 to 12 years. There is talent here. We want to get people into clinics and really forge a relationship with the community,” Jones said.
What better way to do that than signing local players?
“Why not have local players?” Jones added. “People can relate to them. They went to school with them, they come back from college and see them. We want our players to be relatable.”
The Capitols, who played their home games this summer at the Prince George's Sports and Learning Complex in Landover, were a hodgepodge of predominantly D.C. area natives that included 2010 Urbana High school graduates Amie and Julie Ruhe.
As seniors in 2009 the two combined for 28 goals and 15 assists.
The identical twin sisters were joined on the Capitols roster by several former Montgomery County high schools stars as well as ex-Freedom players Ali Andrzejewski and Loyola University assistant coach Emily Janss.
The WPSL, which was founded in 1998, is sanctioned by the United States Adult Soccer Association as an affiliate of the U.S. Soccer Federation, the ruling body of soccer in this country, according to the league's website.
With 70-plus teams, it is the nation's largest women's premier league. Its focus is strictly on the development of highly competitive women's soccer teams, according to its mission statement.
The league features some former professional franchises, including the Boston Breakers.
“It was awesome to play with people from different colleges, playing at such a high level. And two ex-Freedom players,” said Julie Ruhe, a rising junior on the Radford University (Va.) women's soccer team. “A lot of girl athletes dream of doing stuff like this. I think when they see [there are opportunities out there] it will motivate them to train at a high level because there's incentive to keep playing competitively against good teams.”
Jones and the Capitols organization made every attempt to provide as professional an atmosphere as possible.
There was music playing during games, announcements over the loudspeakers and halftime shows.
Autograph Alley allowed young fans to obtain autographs from players after the games.
“[The atmosphere] was pretty cool. It was nice to see the little kids come out, nice to have them look up to us,” Amie Ruhe said.
Fans could also join the players for at Three Brothers restaurant for a post-game meal after every contest.
The WPSL season runs from May 1 to Aug. 6.
The Capitols enjoyed a remarkable first season that included a Northeast Atlantic-South Conference title and playoff berth. They lost to the Syracuse Lady Knights in the first round.
But this year was only the beginning, Jones said.
The successful season will help attract elite-level players who were skeptical to join in the organization's first season.
Jones plans to run winter soccer clinics at low cost to help increase interest in the sport and the franchise.
The Ruhe sisters said they intend on staying involved with the Capitols organization and getting in touch with the Frederick soccer community.
With a U-23 team already in tow Jones said he plans on building a youth organization and possibly expanding to men's soccer in the next couple of seasons as well.
The interest already seems to be there as the Capitols played in front of 500 spectators at some home games, Jones said.
“We're looking for the best players to improve what we did this year,” Jones said.