Spalding boys' soccer coach Ed Kestler said his win-loss record at the 7-on-7 summer league at Catonsville Community College does not matter. The games are played on fields half regulation size and are over in less than an hour. No standings are kept officially, and when a goal is scored, the referee doesn't record it in his notepad, although the players keep track.

"Do I care about what happens to us here? Not really," Kestler said. "It's better than what we did last year when our players would come by the school at night and they'd scrimmage each other. This is more intense and is a way to help keep us in shape, but how a player does here has no bearing on if he'll make the team this fall."

Spalding senior forward Kevin Narin and senior midfielder Michael O'Connell, both of whom started on last year's high school team, disagree. They feel their performance in the league is vital because it gives them an opportunity to impress their coach.

"I know with our coach that starting spots are not guaranteed," Narin said. "I think this is part of tryouts because we get a chance to play and show him what we can do."

And if Spalding's players are going to commute to another county to play soccer two nights a week when they could be enjoying the final month of summer vacation, they need something in return.

"I'm not going to come out here to run around and bust my butt for no reason," O'Connell said. "If we're going to play, then we're playing to win."

And that's what the Cavaliers have done. They entered the week 5-0 after posting a 5-4 victory over a previously undefeated Broadneck team on July 21.

Spalding is one of six county teams using the 7-on-7 league as an opportunity for returning players to mix with incoming freshmen and give all of them workouts before the first day of high school practice. Maryland public schools begin practice on Aug. 15, but Spalding, a private school, can hit the field on Aug. 8 -- one day before the summer league ends.

"I view this league as a pre-tryout," said Broadneck senior midfielder Tim McCormick. "We had a lot of players who wanted to come out this summer, so we split the players in half and formed two teams. We take it seriously because, by nature, our team is just really competitive. We didn't have the [high school] season we wanted last year, so I think of this league as the beginning of a fresh start. But I won't judge our success on what happens in summer league."

The 7-on-7 league -- where games consist of two 25-minute halves -- also mirrors high school tryouts because coaches often measure players' strengths on their ability in a confined space, where skill trumps speed.

"We play a lot of short-sided games in our high school tryout," said Meade stopper Brandon Lescalleet. "A lot of what we do is about ball possession, and that's the way you have to play in this league, too."

The summer league is more relaxed than the high school season. Most teams do not have coaches barking orders on the sideline. Instead, team captains take charge, and players have the freedom to play any position, while polishing their skills and building fitness.

"We don't take it too seriously," Meade senior midfielder Chris Tipton said. "Since there are so many teams from our county here, we all know each other. If you don't have enough players, you can always find someone from another team to join your team. Everyone here just wants to play soccer."

At right, Meade's Matt Callahan, left, tries to get past Glenn Ruszin of Chesapeake in a 7-on-7 summer league soccer game at Catonsville Community College last week. Below, Ruszin takes a shot. The games help players get ready for the high school season.