United Women aim to raise soccer's profile -- Gazette.Net


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Jim Bruno has coached the girls soccer team at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School and has guided many boys and girls youth teams for the past 25 years.

He said he makes sure to ask all of his players to name one current member of the United States Women's National Team. And it can't be leading scorer Abby Wambach or famed goalkeeper Hope Solo.

“Just the other day we were talking about the Olympics and I said the women were going to be playing and asked if anyone could name anyone on the team. I told them to put their hands down if it was [Wambach] or [Solo],” Bruno said. “No one had heard of [this year's leading scorer] Alex Morgan or Tobin Heath. It's a shame. I think Mia Hamm was it and now she is gone and people are hard pressed to name two players.”

That is an issue the D.C. United Women, who play their home games at the Maryland Soccerplex in Boyds, aim to rectify.

The United Women are in their second year as a semi-professional team in the W-League. When the Washington Freedom women's team was uprooted last year after 10 seasons and moved to Florida, the D.C. area was left without an elite-level women's team for the first time in a decade.

The Freedom, with Hamm as its marquee player, was founded in 2001 as part of the Women's United Soccer Association, the first attempt at a women's professional soccer league in this country. The WUSA folded in 2003 after playing three seasons. Washington remained a franchise, however, and played in the W-League until joining the new Women's Professional Soccer in 2009. That league folded as well, ceasing operations in May after three seasons.

The Freedom had operated youth teams, aimed at developing some the region's top talent, but those squads were forced to disperse last year when the franchise was sold.

That's when the United Women stepped in.

They are one of three W-League teams to partner with a local Major League Soccer team, the others are the Seattle Sounders Women, which features Solo in goal, and the Colorado Rapids Women.

The United Women's partnership with D.C. United of MLS is a loose one at this point but they do share the brand name. United Women coach Mike Jorden and midfielder Joanna Lohman (Springbrook High) said that is the future of women's professional soccer in the U.S.

“I do think [pairing women's teams with MLS teams] is one of the only opportunities for us to have a professional league in the U.S. in the standard that we would like to run it,” Lohman said. “The ideal would be like the NBA and the WNBA. But the MLS is still very new. And it took them 10 years to make a profit. It's doing well and it's growing. We're not in a position to say how it should use its resources but, fingers crossed, we can come up with something.”

D.C. United sponsors a Super-20 (20-and-under) team but does not currently have a youth structure. Nonetheless, there is no shortage of opportunity for girls to play soccer in this soccer-rich area, as there are a plethora of local teams in the Elite Clubs National and Washington Area Girls Soccer leagues as well as the Olympic Development Program.

Jorden said he would be in favor of an academy system similar to the one the U.S. Soccer Federation runs across the nation for elite-level boys. That is something he said he would like to see the United Women implement in the future, adding that it would prevent talented players from falling through the cracks and bring more notoriety.

But that is in the future and Jorden and the United Women are focused on the present. The 17-year-old W-League is the highest level of women's soccer in the country and possibly the gateway to a new professional league.

The United Women want to be a part of it and promoting the women's game in this community, Jorden said.

So far they've done their part. United Women General Manager Chris Hummer said attendance and season ticket sales are, “definitely up this year.”

“Going pro was never a realistic option,” Lohman said. “You don't make millions of dollars. But I think girls need good role models and players to look up to and having an end goal [to work to] is nice.”

jbeekman@gazette.net