IT'S BEEN two years since Team America folded, bringing an end to Washington's decade of dalliance with pro soccer. But for anyone suffering soccer withdrawal, relief is in sight.
Men's amateur leagues in the District, Maryland and Virginia -- featuring highly skilled foreigners, some of the best young stars in America and former American pros -- provide exciting, entertaining and free soccer every weekend.
They also offer three distinct styles of play -- European, Latin American and American.
NORTHERN VIRGINIA SOCCER LEAGUE -- "We play very good soccer," says Jim McGiettrick, vice president of the league. "Obviously we're a notch below the pros, but . . . our players are very dedicated."
The NVSL, which started with eight teams in 1971, is now the area's largest league, with 40 teams in four divisions. Most of its teams stress the conservative, highly physical soccer favored in Europe. Each season the better teams are promoted up a division while the poorer teams drift down.
The Spartans, backed by a consortium of Greek restaurant owners, are the pride of the NVSL. Coached by former Washington Diplomat John Kerr, with a lineup including U.S. national team regulars Bruce Murray, John Kerr Jr. and Sonny Askew, the Spartans finished third in the nationwide Open Cup tournament (for men's amateur teams) in St. Louis last year and work hard for community support.
"I like to think we're finally doing this right," says Kerr, whose team drew crowds of approximately 500 to its Open Cup playoff games here last year. "The people who support this team do so because they love soccer, not because it's a convenient tax write-off. Without professional soccer, what do the kids in this area have to look forward to? I want to give them something to shoot for."
Kerr and the rest of the league sponsor clinics and let younger players practice with the teams, all in the hopes of creating a pool of talent and interest.
While the NVSL hopes for an American groundswell, and includes former U.S. professionals Tony Crescitelli, Kip Germain and Rob Olson in its first division, the league also fields former World Cup players from Iran, Peru, Guatemala and El Salvador.
NATIONAL SOCCER LEAGUE -- Founded in 1926, it is the area's oldest soccer league and has always featured a highly colorful, Latin American style of play.
"Ninety-nine percent of our players are foreigners, and that's the style they were raised on," says NSL president Luis Del Aguila, whose league has 13 teams. "But everyone finds it very exciting."
Interestingly, it was a member of the U.S. national team, Michael Brady, who earned the league its greatest recognition. Brady, who also plays for American University, led his team, Club Espana, to victory in the National Amateur Cup tournament in St. Lo last June. Club Espana, NSL champion since 1980, has players from 13 different countries on its 17-man roster.
Condores de Chile, which is 90 percent Chilean, and Chile S.C., which is, oddly enough, Bolivian, are other top teams in the NSL. The league also has players who performed on the national teams of Trinidad, Nigeria and Peru.
CAPITAL SOCCER LEAGUE -- It will celebrate its tenth anniversary next year and opened this season with 10 teams. Drawing its support from the youth leagues in the Maryland suburbs, the league plays what CSL president Mike Dichov calls "the American style -- hard passing, hard tackling, very physical."
The Andros and Olney soccer clubs are the best in the CSL, and include U.S. national team members Rob and Rich Ryerson and University of Maryland standout Desmond Armstrong.
Mindful of the poor communication and petty jealousies that destroyed professional soccer in this country, the three leagues have also agreed to set up a "Super League" for the spring in which the top two teams from each will play an 11-game schedule.
The leagues "have to stay in close contact with one another," says Dichov. "If we don't communicate, we all know what will happen."
Here's where you can catch the leagues' top teams in action.
NORTHERN VIRGINIA SOCCER LEAGUE -- plays every Sunday through November at 9, 11 and 1 at Mason District Park, 6621 Columbia Pike, Annandale; and at 10, noon, 2 and 4 at Langley Forks Park, intersection of routes 123 and 193, McLean. For information: 971- 3785.
NATIONAL SOCCER LEAGUE -- plays every Sunday through November at 10:30, 12:30 and 2:30 at 16th and Kennedy streets NW. Call 362-4873.
CAPITAL SOCCER LEAGUE -- plays every Sunday through November at 10, noon and 2 at Turkey Thicket Park, 10th Street and Michigan Avenue NW. 774-9455.
Doug Cress last wrote for Weekend on collecting baseball cards.