Sparks set to debut
The women's professional soccer league folded last season, but high-level competition remains in western Pennsylvania.
Many members of the now-defunct Women's United Soccer Association have decided to play in the Women's Premier Soccer League. Pittsburgh has a new franchise, the Steel City Sparks.
The Sparks open their inaugural season at 7 tonight against the Maryland Pepsi Pride at Pine-Richland Stadium. They will play five home games and five away.
"This is the highest level right now for women," said Sparks' goalkeeper Abby Crumpton, a Michigan graduate, who played for the WUSA's Atlanta Beat last season. "It is a chance for young girls and boys to see high-level soccer."
Sparks coach Erik Ingram said he is hopeful fans will see that his players have the same type of blue-collar work ethic for which Pittsburghers are known.
"These players have athletic ability and ambition," said Ingram, a former Pitt women's assistant soccer coach and Plum resident. "I am confident the fans will believe in us if they come and watch us."
Sparks forward Netta Agredano, who played at Pitt, said she doesn't anticipate it will take long for the team to gel, because they all know the game.
Midfielder Rianna Boleman said she and her teammates can be positive role models for the young fans who will see a competitive level of soccer.
"I am so happy they have this team because you play your whole life, and then there isn't another level to move to," said Boleman, a native of Toronto, Canada, who is a graduate assistant for the California (Pa.) women's soccer team. "There are other summer leagues, but they are more for recreation."
Center midfielder Naomi Cummings said she joined the team to stay in playing shape for her final season of college soccer at Akron.
"I wanted to play for this team because there are some really good players," said Cummings, a Cincinnati native. "Most of the teams should be good because of the WUSA players. I wish that league wouldn't have folded, but I don't think it was given enough time."
Butler High School senior forward Annie Lowry said she will get invaluable experience playing with older, more-experience players.
"I am going to play Division I next year," said Lowry, who will play at James Madison. "This will be a great experience for me to see what I have to work on to raise the level of my game."
Sparks forward Chrissie Abbott, who played for West Virginia, said she doesn't think it will take long for the team to develop a chemistry. She wanted to play to stay in a competitive league. Abbott said the lack of funding doomed the WUSA.
Katie Barnes, who played for San Jose CyberRays of the WUSA last season and is the assistant women's soccer coach at Alabama, will be one of Sparks' elite players.
"I am so excited to play," said Barnes, a West Virginia recruit. "If WUSA gets re-launched, then I will be fit from playing in this league. It looks pretty good that WUSA will return from all that I have heard.
"I just think it wasn't managed properly. This will be a fun atmosphere for the fans."