Growing up many girls soccer players hope to be the next Mia Hamm or Alex Morgan. Unfortunately not everyone’s future has that in store.
But there are other options, as former Quince Orchard High School midfielder Kayla Clarke and other county players are finding out. She and her teammates on the Maryland Capitols aim to prove to rising stars in the Washington, D.C., area that there are plenty of opportunities to play elite level soccer.
“I think that a lot of girls in the area think high school is the be-all end-all,” Clarke said. “We really just wanted to provide a positive image for young girls.”
While the second-year D.C. United Women, who play their home games at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, have name recognition, the organization, which competes in the W-League, is not the only elite-level team in the area. The Capitols recently finished their first season based at the Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex in Landover.
When the Washington area’s only women’s professional soccer franchise, the Washington Freedom, was 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.
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 the 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,” Jones said. “There is talent here. We want to get people into clinics and really forge a relationship with the community.”
What better way to do that than signing local players?
The Capitols’ roster this season was laced with former Montgomery County stars, including Clarke, Diana Barrera (Albert Einstein) and Megan Novak and Michelle Procaccini of Our Lady of Good Counsel.
Ali Andrzejewski and Emily Janss were two fan favorites with the Washington Freedom.
“Why not have local players? 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,” Jones said.
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.
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. It features some former professional franchises, including the Boston Breakers.
Jones and the Capitols organization made every attempt to provide as professional an atmosphere as possible. There was music playing during home games, announcements over the loudspeaker and halftime shows.
Autograph Alley allowed young fans to obtain autographs from players after games. Fans could also join the players at Three Brothers restaurant for a post-game meal after every contest.
The WPSL season started May 1 and will conclude on Friday. The Capitols enjoyed a remarkable first season that included a Northeast Atlantic-South Conference title and playoff berth. They lost to Syracuse in the first round.
But this year was just 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 clinics at low cost to help increase interest in the sport and franchise.
Clarke said she is 100 percent devoted to helping grow the organization.
With a U-23 team already, Jones said he plans on building a youth organization and possibly expanding to men’s soccer into he next couple of seasons.
“I definitely told [Jones] that I want to play with him again next summer,” Clarke said. “I will go to any of the events he needs me to. It’s really admirable, what he’s trying to do with the program. These leagues allow players not on the Olympic team or World Cup team to still compete at a really high level.”