Indoor recreational soccer draws men out for a release

AT PLAY

The games may be informal, but the competition is tough

September 06, 2006|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,Special to The Sun

James Ross stayed busy before his team's indoor soccer game Monday night at Soccerdome II in Harmans. He walked around, loosening up. He watched the other games taking place. He checked how much air was in one of his practice soccer balls.

The 24-year-old Glen Burnie resident not only plays for ES United in the men's 18-and-over league on Monday and Tuesday nights year-round, he also fills in on teams that need players when others don't show up.

"I just love the game of soccer," Ross said. "It's the only sport ... that you can play year-round."

Ross competes as a release after a long day in his full-time job as a mechanic. It's easy to see how much he enjoys himself there, talking to and practicing with people who play with and against him.

"It's the only time I get to go out and just run," Ross said. "I love winning, but losing is not so bad as long as you have" fun.

While a few players are still in college, many members in the 18-and-over league are just like Ross, finding their way to the building to play after work.

Chris Viator, 34, of Laurel is a Baltimore County policeman who plays each Monday night.

"The competition is fun," Viator said. "But it's nice to come out on Monday night and be with good friends."

The 18-and-over league of about 400 players has three divisions, divided by ability. For the season that ends this week, six teams played in Division I with 16 teams in Division II and 12 in Division III. The setup is the same one used by professional teams like the Baltimore Blast: six on six, meaning five players plus a goalie.

Though these are informal games, there's no question that the competition is tough. The games are physical, and most of the players have some high-level skills.

"The intensity is definitely there," said Neal Conlon, Soccerdome's night manager. "This is huge for them."

Soccerdome vice president Jose Benitez said many of the players are using these indoor games and leagues to hone their skills for outdoor competition.

"They can score a lot of goals in indoor - and they love that," Benitez said.

On Monday, Viator was less interested in scoring than in getting through the game. He arrived hobbling a little because of ankle and shoulder soreness. The pain left him grimacing and limping after his game, but he didn't mind.

Soccer actually wound up being more a part of Viator's life later on than earlier. He played football in high school while growing up in Pittsburgh, and then living in Germany as his mother was in the Army. Viator always loved soccer but didn't want to give up football to play it.

As an adult, he's getting the best of both worlds. Viator plays flag football on Sundays and soccer on Mondays, his two days off from work.

Viator plays for the soccer team Lil Jock Inc, a group sponsored by Ryan Fogelsonger, a professional jockey who's earned more than $20 million in his career.

Fogelsonger also plays for the team, which scored an easy playoff victory this past Monday night.

"It's pretty stressful on the body, but I wouldn't miss it for the world," Viator said.

Ross has similar feelings. He played some high school soccer at Archbishop Spalding. When asked how long he wants to keep playing in these leagues, Ross just laughed. "I'm going to play forever - or until I'm bedridden," he said.

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