Plagued by bad luck in a so-far winless inaugural season, the Northern Virginia Majestics had every reason simply to go through the motions in their final practice of the year, as gnats and mosquitoes filled the hazy, humid air that blanketed their makeshift soccer field in a swampy area at a Coast Guard facility in Alexandria.
But for an hour and a half, the 15 women in blue-and-red practice vests and Coach Curtis Wilson held a spirited, lighthearted workout that left the team enthusiastic before tonight's season finale. The confidence seems warranted, for even though the first-year, Woodbridge-based team has not yet made a significant impact on the league standings--an 0-10 record caused in part by some key injuries--the Majestics have survived. And there are signs they will become a fixture on the area soccer scene.
The Majestics, who play their home matches at Woodbridge High School, are Northern Virginia's entry in the United Soccer Leagues' W-League, which is the highest level of women's club soccer in the United States. Interest in the league has surged in the afterglow of the Women's World Cup, and membership stands at 34 teams in 19 states and Canada. U.S. women's national team members such as Michelle Akers, Carla Overbeck, Cindy Parlow and Kristin Lilly have played alongside amateur and college stars in the W-League, which eventually may be the foundation on which a first-division professional league is built.
The man behind the women is Woodbridge High graduate Tim Schweitzer, 33, who, along with his wife, Marie (a Majestics player), and business partner Chico Villagomez, were granted the Northern Virginia franchise last November.
Schweitzer is confident there is a place for his team in Prince William County. "There's a sports niche that's not filled here, and that's women's soccer," he said. "With the successes of area college programs and the national impact of WAGS [Washington Area Girls Soccer League], it certainly made sense to put something at home in Northern Virginia. I asked myself where my fan base was and where I would get players, and this seemed like a perfect area for both of those."
The Majestics management, coaches and players have gone to great lengths to forge a give-and-take relationship with a community that has embraced soccer and is full of potential fans and players. The team has averaged 350 supporters for home games, according to the United Soccer Leagues office, and has pulled the vast majority of its athletes from Northern Virginia youth leagues, high schools and colleges.
Despite the Majestics' limited resources, the team has taken care to go into the community and establish an identity.
"We've tried to run our advertising directly to the youth," Schweitzer said. "The key is getting the players to be the fans. We have to be at the fields and at the practices, and we need to be on a first-name basis with coaches and players. We need to be a grass-roots organization and let the youth clubs know that they are going to be the basis for our fans and our [future] players."
Many of the Majestics players grew up in Northern Virginia, so the connection they build with area players is meaningful. Midfielder Gayle Smith, 31, a Virginia graduate who is the only Majestics player to appear with the full U.S. national team, believes their accessibility will be the key to their success.
"We have players that want to get involved. The connection they can build is so important," she said. Smith is the team's director of youth development, and as such will oversee the clinics and camps that have proven to be an effective way to interact with youth teams.
Audra Webber, 26, is a direct product of Prince William soccer who hopes the Majestics will be an outlet for area players who wish to continue competing after college. She was an All-Met at Gar-Field and had a distinguished career at Maryland. Webber, who was just hired as a guidance counselor at Woodbridge, is tied with Smith for second on the team in goals with two.
"It's wonderful playing at home. It's just the best to hear your name and know that there are people in the stands who have always been there for me," she said.
Webber had harbored hopes of playing with the national team but now has turned her focus to the Majestics.
"This is a soccer Mecca," she said. "Women's soccer is finally on the minds of the community, and this league has raised everyone's level. This is now an avenue young players can use. It can give them an idea of what a women's game should be."
"The games are fun, and the kids have a blast, and the players are invested in the kids and the fans," Wilson said after Thursday's practice. "People need to learn about this team and this opportunity. This area can be the future of women's soccer."
The Northern Virginia Majestics play their final game of the season against the Piedmont Sparks tonight at 6 at Annandale High School. The game will be followed by a men's D3 Pro League game pitting the Northern Virginia Royals and the Carolina Dynamo.