The Maryland Pride women's soccer team won the W-League Northern Division regular season title with an 11-4 record, and defeated the Long Island Lady Riders, 4-1, in a first-round playoff game on Saturday. But all of that will mean little in tonight's semifinal against the Raleigh Wings in Raleigh, N.C. The Wings (15-1) feature a collection of players with national team experience and have one of the most impressive resumes in U.S. club soccer.
The Pride-Wings match, the second half of a semifinal doubleheader, will be part of a weekend that is one of the highlights of the U.S. women's soccer calendar. The Chicago Cobras (14-0) will meet the Atlanta Classics (10-4) in tonight's other semifinal. The W-League final is Sunday at 4 p.m.
The six-year-old W-League has grown from eight teams to 37 and attracts many of the nation's top amateurs, as well as many current and former U.S. national team players. But few of those players have received the type of attention that was focused on the participants in this year's Women's World Cup, won by the United States.
"All our life we've been playing this game, and now all of a sudden people know about us," said Pride forward Collette Cunningham, a Lake Braddock High School graduate who appeared twice for the U.S. team in 1992. "It's always fun to play, but it's nice to have people supporting you."
She should have no problem being noticed by a Raleigh team that has allowed just five goals this season and has one of the U.S. national team's backup goalkeepers, Tracy Ducar. Cunningham scored all four goals in the Pride's win over Long Island and finished the regular season fifth in W-League scoring with 11 goals and 11 assists.
The Wings have dominated the W-League the past two seasons, winning the 1998 league title with a 17-0 record, and outscoring their opponents this season by an average of 3.69 goals per game. They have Canadian national team forward Silvana Burtini and former U.S. national team players Wendy Gebauer and Staci Wilson. Recently, their lineup has been bolstered by the return of forward Cindy Parlow, who started for the United States in the Women's World Cup. Maryland was missing more than half of its starters in the 7-0 loss to Raleigh on July 17, but had its full squad for last year's semifinals, and still was dismantled by the Wings, 5-0.
"We can afford to be risk takers," Pride Coach Carolyn Rice said. "When you go in and play a strong team, it is immediately an incentive for any team to elevate their game. We are well prepared, and we are confident that our game is strong enough to be a winning one against anybody."
Note: The Northern Virginia Royals, who play in the men's USL D3 Pro League, have won four of their past five matches and will play for a berth in the playoffs Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Annandale High against the Wilmington (N.C.) Hammerheads (14-3). The Royals (9-8) finished last season with a 6-12 record, but have been lifted this season by Virginia graduate Tim Prisco (13 goals and two assists).