Pride goes for another title

W-League: Good chemistry puts Maryland in the playoffs Saturday for the fourth time in its five-year existence.

August 05, 1999|By Kendra Powell | Kendra Powell,SUN STAFF

Since 1994, Peggy McCarthy and Collette Cunningham have been a part of a winning U.S. women's soccer tradition. They are members of the Maryland Pride, which won the W-1 League's six-team North with an 11-4 record.

The Pride will open single-elimination playoffs at 7: 30 p.m. Saturday at its home field, Richard Montgomery High in Rockville, hoping to qualify for the final-four W-1 tournament in Raleigh, N.C.

The Pride, a playoff contenderfor the fourth time in its five-year existence, will face the Long Island Lady Riders, also 11-4 but with a shootout win that cost it two points, second in the North. The Pride won the teams' two regular-season games, 4-0 and 2-0.

The Pride was formed as the Lady Bays in 1994, when the United Soccer Leagues organized a pilot season to determine the demand for a national amateur women's soccer league that led to the W-League's formation.

The W-League now has 34 teams divided into two divisions based on skill level, the higher-level W-1 League, with 16 teams, and W-2, with 18. Overall, it is the nation's top women's league, with many current and former national-team players, college players, and high school athletes.

The Pride, under the veteran leadership of McCarthy and Cunningham, has gone 48-13. During the team's inaugural season, it advanced to the unofficial W-League championship game. In 1996, the Pride captured the title. The team was runner-up in 1997 and 1998.

"The experience of the core group of starters has led to a lot of the success," said Cunningham, in 1995 the first female to play on a men's pro team, the Washington Warthogs of the then-Continental Indoor Soccer League. "We've been playing together for a long time. It's chemistry."

McCarthy, a former William & Mary player, said: "We work hard for each other, and the new players sense that."

Unlike U.S. players who won the third Women's World Cup last month, Pride players get no salary and have no endorsement contracts.

"Part of the real success is the fact that these are people who love the game," said Carolyn Rice, the Pride's coach.

Most are full-time college students, a few are high school students, and others work 9-to-5 jobs. Four coach women's soccer at Baltimore-Washington colleges: Leslie Kehrin (Towson University), Diane Drake (Georgetown), Denise Schilte (UMBC) and Michelle Salmon (UMBC assistant).

The American World Cup victory in the sold-out Rose Bowl last month helped the Pride, said general manager Eric Payne. The Pride has seen an increase in ticket sales, media interest, marketing opportunities, and even in play, he said. The average attendance for Pride home games is 605, fifth highest in the league.

"The future holds a great deal, especially for the younger players," Cunningham said. "We're building right now, but [in the future] it could be big."

The Pride heads to the playoffs backed with a solid defense -- goalkeeper Allison Wolff has a goals-against average of 1.63 -- and a dominating offense, led by Cunningham, the league's fourth leading scorer with 11 goals.

Pub Date: 8/05/99

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