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Amateur Soccer: Struggles become results
AFTER DIFFICULT 2011 DÉBUTS, FREDERICKSBURG TEAMS MAKING STRIDES IN SECOND SEASONS
BY TOM LEISS
The Fredericksburg Hotspur and Impact took their lumps in their inaugural seasons in the United Soccer Leagues’ Premier Development League and W-League, respectively, last year but have come out strong to start this year’s campaigns.
The Impact are 3–0–0 and in second place in the W-League’s Atlantic Division, while the Hotspur sit in first place in the PDL’s South Atlantic Division with a 4–0–1 record heading into Saturday’s doubleheader at the University of Mary Washington’s Battleground Athletic Complex.
Both teams will face stiff challenges on Saturday. The Impact host the division-leading D.C. United Women (4–0–0) in the opener at 2 p.m. and the Hotspur will follow with a match against the defending division champion Carolina Dynamo (3–1–0).
Impact coach Jen Woodie said the teams her side has already played were challenging enough, but she expects United—which has a roster loaded with former professionals—to be Fredericksburg’s toughest test so far.
“I think it’s going to be very tough and I’m excited about it” she said. “I think the girls are motivated and they want to stay at the top of the table and they want to give them their first loss.”
For the Hotspur, head coach Grover Gibson sees the home match of the two-game season series with the Dynamo as a chance for some quality soccer and an opportunity to pull away in the division.
“Carolina comes to play soccer,” he said. “I think that benefits the crowd and benefits us as well because we want to play.
“I think they are our biggest contender to reach the playoffs in the first or second spot this year.”
It is the Impact’s first of three meetings with United this season, while the Hotspur already earned a 1–0 win on Carolina’s home field on Memorial Day weekend.
Pete Cinalli, the general manager for both Fredericksburg teams and an assistant coach with the Impact, said both games will provide a good measuring stick as to where each team stands.
“D.C. United—the brand, the name—garners a lot of respect,” Cinalli said. “They have gotten off to a fast start and we respect them, but we’re not afraid of them. The girls have been training hard all week and are looking forward to the challenge.
“The fact that [the Hotspur] went down there and beat [Carolina] was huge for us in our second year,” he said. “With them coming up here now what a great opportunity for us to have one of the top PDL clubs year-in, year-out coming here wanting a win. I think our guys are ready to show what they’ve got.”
Carolina GM Scott Zapko, who has been involved with the Dynamo for 12 years, said he is impressed with the Fredericksburg organization and what they have done in such a short time frame.
“From an organization standpoint, they have a lot of good people there and are a great group to work with,” he said. “As an expansion franchise there was a learning curve and they’ve definitely done a great job in their second year.
“We knew they would be strong and improved,” he went on to say about the PDL side. “I’ve seen a lot of teams come and go, but I’ve never really seen a team make a jump that they have in a matter of one year.”
The Hotspur finished 2011 in last place in their division with a 2–11–3 record, while the Impact went 2–7–1 and finished fifth out of six teams.
Ryan Sappington—one of only two members to return to the Hotspur this season—said last year might have been a tough season, as far as the standings go, but it was an important learning experience for all involved.
“We might not of gotten the results that we wanted, but we set the groundwork,” the recent graduate of Bucknell University said. “The program has really started to build.”
While the players and coaches worked to get the teams established on the field, those involved with the behind-the-scenes aspects of the club worked hard to do the same off of it.
Both the Impact and Hotspur earned rookie franchise of the year nominations for their respective leagues at the end of last season. Cinalli said that type of recognition helped both teams attract more quality players this year.
“Last year, we attracted good players, but they didn’t really know what we were all about,” he said. “I think word kind of spread on how we ran our organization, and then the coaches we have, and that has clearly drawn a different level of player.”
Some of the key additions for the Hotspur include Gibson, a former German professional who was signed as a player and coach. Trinidad & Tobago internationals Evans Wise and Travis Mulraine also joined the team, along with Jamaican native Don Smart, who previously played in the USL Pro division and leads the Hotspur with six goals.
French international Sandra Matute and William & Mary Hall of Famer Missy Wycinsky joined the Impact to add experience to the team’s already strong group of young players.
Both rosters also boast many players from Division I college programs such as Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth, Richmond, James Madison and West Virginia, to name a few.
The new players and the experience gained last year have been important, but a higher level of commitment shown by all involved has also been a major factor.
“We had a lot of struggles,” Kara Blosser said of last year’s rather young team. “But this year it’s just helped us come along.
“Having Missy is just like having another coach on the field, which is really good because some of us young players, we need that,” the Courtland High School graduate added. “We want to play with people like that because when you see their commitment it just makes us want to play for them.”
Sappington echoed Blosser’s sentiments when speaking about his teammates, many who have aspirations of professional careers.
“I think every day everyone brings it. Everyone’s trying to push each other,” he said. “It’s huge. It’s nice being in an atmosphere like this where everyone’s committed and wants to get results.”
Tom Leiss: 540/374-5440