Women's league may include Baltimore

December 08, 1993|By Rich Scherr | Rich Scherr,Contributing Writer

Megan McCarthy says she won't let past disappointments quell her enthusiasm for the possible creation of a women's professional soccer league.

"It's one of those things that has been talked about for years but has never come through," said McCarthy, a 27-year-old Fairfax, Va., resident and defender on the U.S. women's national team, "but if it does, I'll be the first in line to try out."

For McCarthy, as well as a number of the area's top-level players, the wait may soon be over.

Baltimore Bays general manager Ben Neil said last week that his organization "will enthusiastically pursue" a women's pro franchise in the United States Interregional Soccer League that could begin exhibition play this coming spring.

Neil's decision follows the recommendation of league commissioner Francisco Marcos, who, in a memo to team owners at the recent league meetings in Dallas, said a women's program "is expected to start on an informal and voluntary basis in 1994 . . . at which time plans for an official women's league will be launched."

"We'd love to do it, and we're real serious about it," Neil said. "Our ownership group was one of the first to support the idea."

According to initial response around the 71-city league, the Baltimore team would be one of at least two dozen that could begin league play in the spring of 1995.

"It will be 'A League of Their Own' -- soccer version," Marcos said.

Marcos said the league hopes to capitalize on the excitement surrounding the 1995 women's World Cup in Sweden and the 1996 Olympics.

Although plans are only in the formative stage, Neil said that Baltimore's franchise, unofficially named the Lady Bays, would play before their male counterparts, most likely at UMBC Stadium, and would be made up of players selected at an early spring tryout.

He added that the organization would like to hire a player-coach. One possible candidate is Navy coach Karen Gabarra.

"That's something I'd definitely like to do if we could work out the time constraints," said Gabarra, a left wing on the U.S. national team and Most Valuable Player of the first women's World Cup in 1991. "A lot of good players just retire after college because there's nowhere else to go. That's where this will really help."

Marcos said he thinks they will be able to line up corporate sponsors.

"It's a far easier sell for an all-women's league," Marcos said. "There's always been a fairly wide acceptance [for soccer] by females, and I think companies will look at that and take us very seriously."

Marcos quoted recent statistics that show females make up about 40 percent of all soccer players in the United States.

The league is also expected to be a boost to the national team, developing future team members and giving current players a means to stay in shape.

"It would be a godsend for women's soccer in the U.S.," said national team member Michelle Akers-Stahl, a striker reguarded by many as the "Pele of women's soccer."

Marcos, the former executive vice president of the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the defunct North American Soccer League, said the proposed league is part of the USISL's five-year plan, in which the men's league would be split into three divisions that would ultimately become the Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A of soccer.

For potential players, however, none of that really matters. For them, it's just a long-awaited place to play.

"This is just the boost our sports needs," said McCarthy. "It's what we've all waited for."

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