Four Games … 33 minutes … one shot … priceless

Nikki Weiss and Kerri Butler at the recent Atlanta Beat tryouts

By David Bayer

In my article “So Much Competition, So Few Spots,” I asked if it was really worth it for undrafted players to attend a team tryout. In the words of Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) star Kia McNeill, “There is a lot of great talent out there who underestimate themselves and automatically think they don’t have a chance at the professional level. Those players who tryout and do well attest to the fact that there is a lot of opportunity in this league … as long as they have the heart, work rate and skill.”

I spoke to two young women, Analisa Marquez and Angela Salem, who embody those attributes that Kia mentioned. The title of this article represents the combined statistics for Analisa and Angela in the 2010 WPS season. It doesn’t seem to amount to much, but as we know, statistics don’t always tell the full story. Analisa started playing soccer at age 4 and continued throughout her youth. She moved on to play at the University of Arizona, where she majored in physiology. Upon graduation, her plans were to attend medical school and continue playing soccer for fun. And then, along came WPS.

Coming from a college without a very successful soccer program, Analisa wasn’t surprised or discouraged by not being drafted by any WPS teams. Through her own determination and the encouragement of her “very supportive” parents and coaches, she made a trip to Philadelphia to try out for the Independence. She estimates that her expenses (airfare, lodging, etc.) totaled somewhere between $600 and $800. And, in the end, Philly did not invite her to preseason. But, along came an invitation from the Boston Breakers to attend their tryouts. Once again, the travel expenses were on her, but there was no tryout fee. (Tryout fees are usually in the $100 to $125 range). She felt everyone got a fair chance at the camp and felt 70 percent sure that she would be invited to preseason. That invitation did come (via email), and from there she won a spot on the Breakers roster. For all her hard work, expense, and anxiety, Analisa played in one game for four minutes, but that was one game and four minutes amongst the elite in a sport she loves. As she explained, “I felt excited because it was a new experience, and not many people can say they had a chance to play with the best players in the world. So I was excited and humbled to be able to have an opportunity like that.”

Angela also started playing soccer at age 4. She went on to Francis Marion University (South Carolina), majoring in psychology. Without WPS, Angela’s plans included a job search overseas for soccer openings, and also nursing school. The WPS excited her and motivated her to work even harder. Coming from a small Division 1 school, Angela had no visions of being drafted. But, once again, motivation from herself, parents, and coaches moved her to the tryout process. Her first stop was Atlanta because it was a close drive from South Carolina and her sister was living there. The Beat was a “no,” so it was on to the next available tryout, Sky Blue FC. As that process reached the end, Angela was one of eight players vying for three available roster spots. “Relief” and “excitement” were her feelings as she learned she had made it. Angela’s stats for the season – three games played, 29 minutes, one shot, and one “amazing” visit to the White House with the Sky Blue FC 2009 WPS Champions to be congratulated by President Obama.

Would both women do it all again? That’s an easy “yes!” Analisa and Angela are back at it again chasing the opportunity for those few precious moments in the game they so passionately love. They had been dropped from their team rosters at the end of the season. I had the opportunity to attend the recent Beat tryouts on Jan. 29 and 30. The 55 women there were treated to temperatures in the 60s. Day one consisted of skill work, small-side games, and (I’m guessing to everyone’s dismay), sprints finished out the proceedings. Everyone was invited back for day two (this doesn’t happen at all tryouts), where full field games were played. Four coaches had their eyes on all the players. I’ve auditioned actors for plays and films. You review them one at a time. That’s easy. I can’t imagine trying to judge the talents of all those women flying around the soccer field.

I was able to talk to two prospective players, Nikki Weiss of Notre Dame and Kerri Butler of West Virginia University. They weren’t flying around the field, because as goalkeepers, it’s not part of their game. They were judged mainly on their communication and foot skills. One reason Nikki chose Notre Dame, besides getting a marketing degree, was to win a National Championship. It turned out to be a great choice as the Irish accomplished that feat in 2010. Kerri wasn’t as lucky. But she was an all-Big East goalkeeper who set the career shutout record for her school! Kerri’s degree will be in exercise physiology.

Even with great college careers neither expected to be drafted, because of sheer numbers, so they went the tryout route. As Kerri said, “It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl. I don’t want to go down the road and feel like I never knew if I could make it.” Nikki’s philosophy was to, “keep your nerves under control and stay calm.” They both told me they were prepared to move on to the non-sports working world, if things don’t work out in the WPS. Kerri explained, “It’s a great experience regardless of what happens. If we make it, we make it. If we don’t, it’s on to new things.”

I also had the pleasure of meeting two very supportive and proud people, Kerri’s parents, John and Diane. They drove from their home in Virginia to stand behind the chain link fence and watch their daughter compete. One thing that John mentioned really stuck out with me. He and Kerri have a tradition before all her games. John says, “Always do your …” and Kerri answers with “best,” and then after a fist bump, John says, “always.” It’s good simple advice for all players, but I really like their approach. To Analisa, Angela, Nikki and Kerri, I wish you all the best in wherever the tryout road takes you.