History will be made in Gambrills, MD, this weekend, as for the first time ever four champions of US women’s amateur soccer will meet to decide an overall champion, to be awarded the Michelle Akers trophy. Hosted by the Arundel Soccer Association’s Chesapeake Charge, matches will take place at Arundel High School on Friday and Sunday. (The counterpart men’s tournament takes place at the same location on Thursday and Saturday.)
The four representatives are as follows:
ASA Chesapeake Charge – 2013 USASA Amateur Cup Champions
Houston Aces – 2013 USASA Open Cup Champions
Real Salt Lake Women – WPSL representative*
Washington Spirit Reserves – W-League representative*
Any kind of matches between United Soccer Leagues (USL) W-League teams and Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) teams are as rare as Abby Wambach missing a point-blank header. (The WPSL broke off from the W-League back in the late 90′s, and there’s been little in the way of rapprochement since then.) To have two such matches – and meaningful matches at that, not just exhibitions – in the same weekend underscores the momentousness of this tournament.
Competition begins on Carroll Field at 6:30 pm Friday as the Houston Aces take on the Chesapeake Charge. Following that game (scheduled for 9:30 but one has to hope it will start sooner), the Real Salt Lake Women face the Washington Spirit Reserves. Then on Sunday the consolation game is at 11 am, while the final is at 1 pm. (That one will probably start a little late.)
*There is an asterisk on the proceedings because both the WPSL champion San Diego SeaLions and the W-League champion Pali (now Los Angeles) Blues declined to participate, with the two teams who are involved taking their places.
Overview of the teams:
ASA Chesapeake Charge (WPSL)
This is the Charge’s fifth season. Recruiting under the expansive aegis of the Arundel Soccer Assocation, they’ve been a team to be reckoned with for most of their existence. In 2011 they finished first in the nine-team East-MidAtlantic Division, won their first two playoff matches, but then lost in a bid to make it to the WPSL Final Four. In 2012, they participated in the WPSL-Elite league. Faced with four teams with professional heritage, they not surprisingly frequently fell short but were never embarrassed. Last year they once again just missed out on the WPSL Final Four.
Their marquee alumna is Christine Nairn from Annapolis, MD, who currently plays for the professional Washington Spirit and who has two caps and one goal with the US Women’s National Team.
Current players to watch include the lightning-fast midfielder Cheyenne Skidmore, their “twin towers” central defenders Jess Hnatiuk and Jennifer Gillette, and nimble midfielder Riley Barger.
Houston Aces (WPSL)
The Houston Aces are an ambitious (some would say upstart) Texas team, one of a small number of professional teams in lower-division women’s soccer. After an unimpressive inaugural WPSL season, the Aces revamped and stormed the national scene in 2013, including winning the Women’s Open to qualify for this year’s national amateur championship. Like the LA Blues and FC Indiana in 2012, the Aces applied for an NWSL team in 2013 but were turned down.
Their 2013 campaign saw 21 consecutive wins across all competitions, outscoring their opponents 67-5 between an 0-2 preseason loss to the NWSL Chicago Red Stars and a heartbreaking 1-2 loss to the San Diego Sea Lions in the WPSL national final. Their 2014 campaign has started much rougher, with 5 wins, 2 draws, and 2 losses, including a 1-7 decision to the NWSL Houston Dash, but are currently riding a three-game winning streak.
The Aces’ 2014 roster returns seven of last year’s Aces squad, and has a distinctly Spanish flair with five South American players, including two with experience in Spain. Notably missing this year, though, is 2013 All-WPSL selection and Mexican national team member Jackie Acevedo, who now plays with the NWSL Portland Thorns.
Real Salt Lake Women (WPSL)
The RSL Women were founded in 2008 as the Salt Lake City Sparta. Their most successful season was 2012, when they won the Big Sky-North Division and made it to the national semifinals. RSL and the Charge met in the USASA Amateur Cup Final last year, the Charge prevailing, 2-0.
The most notable name associated with the team is that of Jacqui Rimando, whom longtime local women’s soccer fans will remember as scrappy midfielder Jacqui Little of the 2003 WUSA champion Washington Freedom. She was still playing for the team last year, though it’s not clear if she’ll be participating in 2014.
Again, I’m not familiar with their players – and the roster on their website hasn’t been finalized, in any case – so I can’t point out the more notable ones.
Washington Spirit Reserves (W-League)
The Reserves started in 2011 as the DC United Women. After a disappointing first season, they’ve made it to the W-League Final Four the past two years, both times losing to the eventual champion.
Several former players are now professionals, including Lianne Sanderson, Joanna Lohman, and Becky Sauerbrunn.
Players to watch include US U-20 National Teamers Andi Sullivan and Brittany Basinger, former Portland Thorn Adelaide Gay – who was also goalkeeper for the 2012 NCAA champion North Carolina Tar Heels – and British-born forward Amber Stobbs.
All in all, this is a rare chance to see some of the top American amateur women compete. Don’t miss it!
Houston Aces profile provided by Austin Hope.