Team: ASA Chesapeake Charge
Rivals: Boston Breakers, Western New York Flash, New York Fury
Home venues: Anne Arundel Community College, Arnold, MD; Old Mill High School, Millersville, MD
History: Third season. Made playoffs first season, lost on bid to reach WPSL Final Four their second
Head coach: Albert Oni
Players to watch: Jessica Hnatiuk (defender), Cheyenne Skidmore (forward), Laura Kane (forward), Christine Nairn (midfielder)
Head coach Albert Oni, WPSL East Conference Coach of the Year in 2011, deliberately targeted youth, speed, and athleticism as he endeavored to put together a team that could compete with the likes of the Boston Breakers, Western New York Flash, and New York Fury, all packed with a host of former WPS players.
Jessica Hnatiuk has been with the team since their inaugural season and last year helped anchor one of the most impenetrable back lines in WPSL. As a result she was named to the East’s All-Conference team and to the All-WPSL Third Team. At 5’11” an easy player to spot on the field, she played collegiately for Johns Hopkins.
Cheyenne Skidmore has been either the leading or #2 scorer for the Towson Tigers during her three-year collegiate career so far.
Laura Kane is a bit of a contrast with the overall youth movement as she graduated from college in 2005. She’s a former all-American who played four years at West Virginia and on the US U-23 team.
The marquee signing, though has to be midfielder Christine Nairn. Nairn, a local product born in Annapolis, MD, should be familiar to US Women’s National Team fans as she played in two matches for the full USWNT in 2009, scoring the lone (and therefore game-winning) goal in a match against Canada on July 22. She’s also played for the U-20 and U-23 teams and currently plays collegiately for Penn State.
The youth movement comes in with a vengeance with Ashley Spivey – Gatorade Maryland Girls Soccer Player of the Year for 2011-12 – and Riley Barger, players from the U-18 national team who won’t even start college until this fall.
The Charge may benefit from the substitution rules for the WPSL-Elite, which limits teams to six substitutions. (Normal WPSL rules allow unlimited substitutions.)
Frankly, I had some trepidation when I heard the Charge had joined the WPSL-Elite. They’d been a good team last year by WPSL standards, though somewhat one-dimensional: their defense, anchored by the aforementioned Jess Hnatiuk alongside Emily Janss (now with the Maryland Capitols, presumably because at age 34 she didn’t fit in with the Charge’s youth movement), was stalwart, but they had almost no attacking presence – Alexis Prior-Brown being the only truly dangerous scoring threat on the team. I brought this issue up with General Manager Pat Crawford, who immediately said, “We’re aware of the problem, and it has been dealt with.” When I pressed for how they’d dealt with it, he pointed to Laura Kane, who happened to be walking past at the time. Presumably Chey Skidmore is also part of the solution. In an interview with Dan Lauletta published by The Equalizer, he went so far as to say that he thought he had a stronger squad than if they’d tried to put together a professional one given the time constraints. He contends that this team is quicker and more athletic than the rival squads, with young, confident players who aren’t going to be intimidated by going up against the likes of Leslie Osborne or Cat Whitehill.
But are they good enough to beat teams with WPS heritage like the Boston Breakers or Western New York Flash? Fortunately, we don’t have to wait very long to find out as the Charge host the WPSL-Elite’s inaugural match this Thursday the 10th at 7 pm at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold MD. I can’t wait!