Late Saturday night, Robert Hammond and several of his teammate from Liberty Baptist College in Lynchburg, Va., arrived in Washington after a grueling 3 1/2-hour drive through heavy fog and rain.
They had come to play in the first North American Soccer League Players Association-George Washington University Indoor soccer tournament that began yesterday at Smith Center.
For Hammond, that 190-mile ride from southwestern Virginia was a breeze. Just last year, he flew from his home in Accra, Ghana, to attend college in the United States.
In his second year on a business administration scholarship, the tall and slender 25-year-old also has accumulated some impressive soccer credientials. He was an All-Virginia Division II fullback and a starter for the East in the College All-Star game, which his side won 3-2.
Yesterday, Hammond's team lost, 5-1, to William & Mary in the tourney's opening round.
"This is the first time I've played soccer indoors, but they were a very good team," said Hammond, who stopped several difficult shots.
"Indoor soccer is not easy. I was trying to create openings, but no man stays in the clear very long. They had some good ball handlers, too."
Hammond has seen some very good ball-handlers in the past. Playing on the Ghanan national high school team in 1969, he went head-to-head against soccer legend Pele in an exhibition match with Santos of Brazil.
"I was trying to play him man-to-man in the first half," Hammond said with a laugh. "My coach yelled to me. 'Are you crazy?' Maybe I was. But I will never forget when he (Pele) smiled and gave me a pat on the back after the game."
Only William & Mary players were smiling yesterday after, frustrating Liberty Baptist with short and accurate passes.
For William & Mary, only coach Al Albert had to make a long drive to get to the Smith Center tournament. His team just drove across Key Bridge. Everyone playing yesterday for W&M is a graduate of Annandale Boys Club soccer. Many have played together since childhood.
"I do almost all my recruiting from two places - Toronto and Annandale," said Albert, whose team went 12-2 this fall, losing only to Navy and Howard.
"The Northern Virginia area, specifically Annandale, just seems to have a great youth program. By th time they're ready for college, they're excellent players and great friends."
The NASLPA-GW competition will continue at 7 tonight with semifinals in the boys (12-13 year olds), girls (14-15 year olds) and college divisions.