The WPSL is a hit-or-miss league. Some clubs have noble goals of growing the game. Some clubs sign notable players who aren’t in the NWSL for whatever reason — family ties, good jobs, etc. And some clubs put together an organization that can follow through on those ambitions. Some clubs, not so much. The standings include something called “St. Louis (Forfeits)” and a club with a -34 goal difference through six games.
It’s tough to rank teams until they play each other in the playoffs, but two of the teams that fall comfortably in the “noble goals” and “notable players” categories are conveniently located about 22 miles from each other in the strip of Maryland between Washington and the Chesapeake.
They weren’t in the same league last year. The ASA (Arundel Soccer Association) Chesapeake Charge played in the WPSL Elite league. ACF Torino USA started last season as the Maryland Capitols.
Now they’re the top two teams in the WPSL’s South Atlantic division, each boasting some talented players from the nearby University of Maryland and more far-flung origins — ACFTUSA has some players from Liverpool Ladies, two of whom combined on the team’s first goal last night.
So the couple hundred fans who braved the rain and the traffic — the game was delayed by 15 minutes because players were having trouble getting there — saw an entertaining local derby. Some also enjoyed cheeseburgers from the grill ASA set up next to the Arundel High School stadium restrooms, where they also had a good selection of chips and drinks at quite reasonable prices.
It’s elite adult soccer at high school prices — not a bad deal.
The high school field isn’t great — it’s battered turf with wild bounces and a fast surface to which some players never fully adjusted, especially after an afternoon of soaking in the rain. Maryland/Charge attackers Riley Barger and Alexis Prior-Brown had several deft passing combinations that fell apart when a ball that would have held up nicely on College Park’s Ludwig Field but went skipping out of play.
Three of the goals were from dead-ball situations. The Liverpool connection of Sophie Jones to Amie Fleming put Torino in front early on a well-placed corner kick to a wide-open Fleming, who headed it powerfully to the top corner of the goal. The Charge tied it on a Laura Kane penalty kick. After Torino took the lead in the second half, Kane again delivered with a free kick that soared over the mass in the box and found Jen Gillette at the back post.
The one goal from the run of play came from the most dangerous player on the field, wily veteran Ali Andrzejewski. The 28-year-old veteran of the Washington Freedom’s W-League days doesn’t need much space to create a shot on goal, and a bad Charge giveaway gave her a 1-on-1 opportunity against the keeper.
“I still feel really good,” Andrzejewski said. “I don’t think I’ve lost a step. My approach to the game is a lot different than it was five or 10 years ago. I have an even temper through the game. Something about being an older player is relaxing.”
And it’s good for the younger players to have experienced teammates and opponents. Playing against different permutations of the same age group through youth soccer and college must get boring after a while.
The rematch is Saturday, and the winner is the likely division champion. I can’t make it, but if you can get to Hyattsville, I’d recommend it.
(Yes, I did chat with the Charge’s Heather Cooke, but I’m saving that for the Spirit book. And you can indeed see her on an upcoming MTV show in which she competes in something with a Real World castmate who really didn’t like her. More importantly, she’s still working hard to push the Phillippines national team to the next level. Castmate Naomi’s Twitter profile description is “Thug Life One Wife A Mistress And A Gf Oh Yea Ive Been On MTV.” I think Heather has been a bit more productive since her Real World days.)