If there is anyone a girls soccer team might like to hear from before a tournament final, the legendary Mia Hamm likely tops that list, along with the sport’s all-time leading scorer Abby Wambach and international appearance leader Kristine Lilly. The Bowie-based Maryland United FC Elite Clubs National League Under-15 team received Twitter messages and motivational videos from all three before its North American Cup championship game held July 17 in Richmond. United FC in turn capped off the five-day tournament with a 1-0 win over St. Louis Scott Gallagher Soccer Club to win the national title.
United FC finished the week 3-0-1. The tie came against St. Louis the previous day; a scoreless draw earned the teams their spot in the final.
“We had Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach sending our team Twitter messages saying ‘Good luck’ an Kristine Lilly specifically sent our team a video message wishing us luck,” United FC coach Harry Canellakis said. “It was a big surprise and the girls loved it. I think it really motivated them for the championship game.”
Canellakis was an assistant coach during United’s championship run but has since taken over from former coach Mellanie Nai, who recently joined the Loyola University Maryland women’s soccer coaching staff.
United qualified for the American Cup with a 3-0 run at a national playoff in Seattle in late June, where they outscored their opponents, 9-2. They outscored their opposition, 6-2, in Richmond.
Based in Prince George’s County, the Maryland United FC club draws top talent from all over the state of Maryland. Alexis Hogarth out of Jarrettsville in Harford County scored the game winner against St. Louis. United States U-17 Women’s National pool player Kori Locksley, whose hometown on U.S. Soccer’s website is listed as Fort Washington, paced the team in scoring over the four American Cup games.
A trio of Bishop McNamara sophomores — Anissa Mose (Laurel), Kayla Foster (Mitchellville) and Paige Stephenson (Brandywine) — and Seton sophomore Arianna Green (Bowie) were all on United FC’s stingy backline. Bowie’s Anna Voigt, who plays soccer at Archbishop Spalding in Severn, is a forward on the team.
The summer’s 6-0-1 run was not something United though possible after a tough start to the season, which made winning the national title even sweeter, said Mose and Stephenson. The two are part of the first class of elite players McNamara coach Edgar Rauch recruited to help the Forestville program become more relevant in the super competitive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. Every year players must try out to make the elite level team, which can sometimes lead to a transitional period at the start of each season, Canellakis said. But by springtime United had settled into Nai’s offensive-minded system, Mose and Stephenson agreed.
In a world where many high school girls soccer teams take pride in slower paced possession style offenses, United played to its sheer athleticism. Direct soccer doesn’t just have to be kick and run, Canellakis said, and United found a good balance.
“I think playing more direct, in the way of soccer, has certain connotations,” Canellakis said. “There is a way of being proactive on the ball and not playing ugly soccer. And that was a balance that Mellanie was able to strike. The girls did play a more proactive style and got the ball forward quickly but it wasn’t ugly soccer.”
As United’s players’ focus shifts to their respective high school programs, Canellakis said the team will cut its practices down to once a week. But with a national title in hand, the club certainly has a new standard to hold itself to entering the 2014-15 season, he said.
“[The American Cup] was a lot different than any tournament I’ve ever been to,” Mose said. “We walked in on a red carpet and people were taking pictures. ...It was cool to win because we didn’t do so well at the beginning. By the end of the year we were used to playing with each other and incorporating everyone’s different style.”