Though they stood on opposite sides of the field Friday morning at Chancellor's Run Regional Park in St. Mary's County, the members of the girls soccer teams from Canada and Southern Maryland had cheered together the night before.
The Gloucester Hornets had traveled from their home town of Ottawa -- about 50 miles north of the U.S. border -- to Maryland to pull for the U.S. national team in Thursday night's 3-2 win over Germany in the 1999 Women's World Cup at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium.
Friday, looking a bit exhausted as they neared the end of their seven-day trip, they squared off against a mixture of players from the Southern District development team and the St. Mary's Bulldogs of the Washington Area Girls Soccer League in a friendly scrimmage.
"This game is all about fun," said Shannon Schmidt, a rising senior at St. Mary's Ryken and the daughter of Richard Schmidt, who is head coach for Ryken, the 17-and-under Southern District development team and the Bulldogs. "It's exciting for us because it's against the Canadians, and most of us have never played a foreign team before. It's kind of like a mini-World Cup for us."
The scrimmage between the two teams was arranged nearly a year ago, after Hornets Coach Sam Kucey met Richard Schmidt at a National Coaches Association clinic in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Kucey knew his team would be in the area for the World Cup, so he phoned Schmidt, who agreed to plan the game.
"The cross-border games are so important because we are still so far behind developmentally," said Kucey, whose players painted Canadian flags on their cheekbones.
Though soccer has grown in Canada in recent years, "the Canadian soccer program [still] is about 10 years behind the U.S. in terms of development," Kucey said. "I guess you can tell that by the fact that the Canadian team didn't even make it through the first round of the World Cup. That's part of the reason our girls really look up to the U.S. national team so much. I bet if you asked them, they could name a lot more women on the U.S. team than the Canadian team."
Sixteen-year-old Mona Hafez, a center-midfielder for Gloucester, said her coach was right. And a lot of the appeal, Hafez thinks, has to do with American advertising, such as the new commercial with Mia Hamm and Michael Jordan.
"The one thing I have noticed most is that we do not practice or train nearly as much as the American kids do," said Hafez, who said she and her high school-age teammates spent most of their first five days here shopping and sightseeing in Washington, D.C. "I think it's because we have much smaller house leagues and club teams. But I do see a lot of little girls who are getting into soccer now just for fun."
Shanann Cooksey, 16, is a rising junior at La Plata who said she too thinks that advertising, and the promotion of big events such as the World Cup, has led to increased soccer participation in the United States. Still, she was surprised at the size -- and the excitement -- of Thursday night's World Cup crowd.
"Everyone was just crazy, and there was so many people there," said Cooksey, who admitted to painting a friend's face in support of the U.S. team, though she declined to have it done to herself for fear of rain and, subsequently, a smeared design. "I know there are a lot more people who have gotten into soccer, but I still couldn't believe all the young girls who were there last night, so into the game. When I first started playing when I was about 5, I think I was the only girl on my team for years."
Not anymore. Thousands of area youths -- girls and boys -- are starting organized soccer at age 4. And many, just like Cooksey, stick with the sport through the recreational leagues and into high school in hopes of playing collegiately.
"I definitely want to play in college, hopefully on a scholarship," said Cooksey, a first-team All-Extra selection for her play at sweeper for La Plata last fall. "And going to the game last night gives me motivation to work even harder. Even though I know I probably won't make it that far, knowing that the World Cup team is there gives me something to work toward."
And watching the Southern District team -- a compilation of girls from Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties -- gives the Canadian team something to work toward. Kucey, who has been involved in the promotion of girls soccer in Canada for about 30 years, said that was what prompted the idea of a trip to Maryland for the World Cup and for a scrimmage with a local team. It would give him, and his players, a chance to see how they stacked up to the American team.
On Friday, Kucey saw a clear, but not lopsided, advantage for the Americans. Showing somewhat better speed, footwork and positioning, the Maryland squad grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first half, but play was competitive.
"I've been wanting to do more cross-border playing," Kucey said. "And I like games like this that are more friendly than competitive. It lets us see where we are. I know my girls were a little nervous about playing the big, bad USA team, but this is the type of thing we need to do to improve."
And it may not be the last time the squads meet. Schmidt hopes his Southern District team will make a trip to Canada next June for a tournament that Gloucester plans to host.
Said Schmidt: "Our girls are already fired up about that possibility."
CAPTION: Sarah Shlogel, center, is hugged by teammate Jessica Leonard after scoring a goal Friday during a scrimmage between Southern Maryland players and the Gloucester Hornets, a team from Ottawa.
CAPTION: Players for a Southern Maryland squad enjoy gifts from a visiting Canadian soccer team at a scrimmage in Lexington Park.
CAPTION: Southern Maryland's Rachel Bushway tries to clear the ball as Gillian Connelly of Ottawa's Gloucester Hornets team challenges her during a scrimmage Friday. The night before, players from both teams watched the U.S. national team defeat Germany in Women's World Cup play at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium.