Younger girls warm to soccer as winter game

AT PLAY

Spotlight on U.S. women players may help explain crowds at Soccerdome II

December 20, 2006|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Special To The Sun

George Farber spent several minutes wading through a cluster of happy parents and spectators at Soccerdome II in Harmans Friday night.

The coach of the Fort Meade indoor soccer team in the under-11 girls second division league received a number of compliments, shook hands and talked for several minutes, laughing and joking along the way.

Fort Meade had suffered a tough 3-2 loss to the first-place Lady Red Devils, but not many parents or fans of the team seemed that upset.

"A game like this, it's excellent," said Farber. "Yes, it was a 3-2 loss, and it would have been nice to win, but it was good."

Soccer is growing quickly in popularity among younger children, especially girls, drawing interest away from sports like basketball, which used to be the main winter sport.

Many soccer experts point to the increased success that Americans have had in international play - specifically World Cup competition - in the past 12 years as a spark plug for more interest in the sport.

For girls, a lot of the interest came from Brandi Chastain's famous shootout-penalty kick goal that gave the Americans the World Cup title over China in 1999.

Players such as Chastain, Mia Hamm and others suddenly became major stars. Girls' soccer long had been strong in this area, but all of that seemed to help push the recreation-club-travel teams to a new level.

There's more of everything now. That's why leagues such as this have grown so popular. It's also why Soccerdome II is packed for the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. games that the league plays on Fridays over an eight-week winter session from Dec. 1 to Feb. 8.

Parents, fans and friends take up nearly every inch of available space between the two fields on which the games are played.

Getting from one end of the fields to the other can be a chore because the walkway between the two parallel fields is typically packed.

Teams are made up of players from various communities. For example, the Fort Meade team's goalie is Sarah Brantley, and her father drives his favorite keeper to the game from Howard County each week.

"She enjoys being with the other girls," Tom Brantley said. "She just loves it. She practices a [lot], and she tries hard."

The Brantleys got Sarah on Fort Meade by putting a notice on the league's Web site saying they had a goalie looking to play indoor soccer. Farber got back to her, and everything worked out.

"The game is faster indoors," Sarah said. "I just love to play it."

She also said there's an adjustment needed from the outdoor soccer she plays at other times of the year to this game, which is much more like ice hockey with a soccer ball.

"There's walls, and the ball bangs off of them a lot," she said. "I like to be able to use my hands because in outdoor soccer, you don't get to use them as much."

But just getting to play is what many of the girls enjoy. The winter leagues also are growing in popularity because they keep the girls' skills sharp to play club soccer in the spring and summer.

Journey Legg scored both of Fort Meade's goals. The 10-year old Fort Meade resident said she loves Fridays because it's soccer day. "When we're in school, I just can't wait to get out here and put my uniform on again," she said.

The bottom line is the girls don't treat every single game they play as if it's the World Cup.

"There's a lot of girls playing soccer now," Farber said. "I just think they like to run and play and have fun."

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