If playing for a national team is just about every player's dream, this summer has given Ellicott City's Lauren Molinaro not only a better idea of where she is but also what she needs to do to progress, and maybe a taste of the future.
"The next deciding thing for me will be college this fall," said Molinaro, who missed her senior season at Centennial High with a freakish back injury but began her third fall practice with her University of Connecticut team this week.
Where Molinaro is, it's clear from this summer, is on the edge of breaking into the national-team picture -- an out-of-focus frame that inevitably will sharpen once next year's Sydney Olympics end and as many as eight or 10 aging U.S. World Cup champion players retire.
Molinaro started her summer experiencing up close what national-team membership can mean these days, witnessing the U.S. victory in the Women's World Cup -- from right behind the Rose Bowl goal where Brandi Chastain buried the decisive penalty kick and created the most famous sports bra photo of all time.
Duly inspired, Molinaro went off a few weeks later to Winnipeg, Manitoba, surprised at having been called to the U.S. Under-18 women's team, and came home with a gold medal of her own in the Pan American Games.
She scored three goals in that tournament, a rare competition internationally for Under-18 women that coach Jay Hoffman told reporters "is important for any player. [It doesn't] change your game, but it changes your psyche."
"I'm not usually a scorer," said the 5-foot-5 Molinaro, almost 20, who was the team's starter at the key center midfield spot after barely making the Games' age cutoff. "Usually, I run around a lot and distribute the ball. All of the goals were pretty cool, though."
So, with what she did this summer, Molinaro went back to college play with higher expectations -- to improve her skills, consistency and pace of play being among them. Those things, and absorbing all she can about the art of leading, which is expected of center midfielders.
At UConn, Molinaro will be an "old lady" on a young team after scoring four goals and assisting on eight last year. She's one of four juniors on a team with just one senior and the rest freshmen and sophomores in quest of a second straight Big East title. The Huskies, NCAA quarterfinalists last fall and trying for their fourth straight 20-win season, are expected to be very competitive again.
Is Molinaro -- who calls Wilde Lake boys coach Dave Nesbitt, whom she had in club ball and still consults, "my absolute favorite coach of all" -- even a little intimidated about the expectations on her this fall?
"It's all going real nice," she said of her soccer career.
Catching up with pros
It's not all nice on Maryland's pro/semipro soccer front.
The A-League's Maryland Mania, facing two road games in New England this weekend before returning home for three final games at Anne Arundel Community College, are 2-20, having lost nine straight and three of their last four by identical 4-0 scores.
As discouraging as this first season -- and the part-owner now controlling the team's books says there will be a next season -- has been, the Mania is not quite the A-League's worst team. That distinction goes to Sacramento at 0-23.
The D3 Pro League's Eastern Shore Sharks, the Ocean City-based reincarnation of the last Baltimore Bays franchise, ended their second season last weekend on a familiar note, another loss. That made the Sharks' 1999 record 2-18 in the semipro league, 3-21 overall. They gave up four or more goals in eight league games.
That's progress. In 1998, the Sharks' league record was 0-18. Putting both league seasons together, the Sharks were on a 28-game losing streak before winning July 16.
Pub Date: 8/20/99