PHILADELPHIA - It was hot and muggy with spots of rain mixed in Wednesday afternoon. Sweat poured down their faces as they ran across the damp earth at Chestnut Hill College.
The 24 women loved it, but the fun ended at the foot of the field. These women competed over three days for just two potential spots on the Philadelphia Independence, who will begin play next spring in the Women's Professional Soccer league.
There were players who had been cut from other WPS teams, college graduates and those who compete with minor-league teams around the region. The tryout camp ended Friday, but coach Matt Driver said the evaluation process is ongoing.
Most of the women grew up in the Delaware Valley, including Port Republic's Alicia Hall, who graduated from Holy Spirit High School in 2005. Hall finished her collegiate career at Rutgers last season. The Scarlet Knights made it to the third round of the NCAA Division I tournament.
"This has been a dream of mine my whole life," Hall said. "It's definitely something I want to do."
Hall is in her second season with the AC Diablos, a local amateur team owned and previously coached by Driver, but needed time to recover from surgery to repair the medial collateral ligament in her left knee.
"It's been a really good experience," the 22-year-old Hall said of the Independence tryouts. "I'm pretty excited to be here.
However, if Hall doesn't get an immediate opportunity, all is not lost.
"They are all on our radar," said Driver, who lives in Brigantine.
Philadelphia will go through several drafts before its inaugural team will take form. First, the Independence can offer two women from the tryout a contract. Then there is the expansion draft, the international draft and college draft. Philadelphia will get most its players from the college draft next year.
Then the players who are still "on the radar" can get another shot with the Independence if they do not sign elsewhere. The Independence can carry 22 players with four signed to developmental contracts.
"When I heard about the team forming, I immediately thought that was something I want to do," said Mandy Moraca, who graduated from Gloucester Catholic and plays with the Philadelphia Liberty of the amateur Women's Premier Soccer League. "I want to play professionally somewhere, but it would be amazing if it could be here where I grew up."
The WPS wants to take a grassroots approach to building teams. On its Web site, it says it wants to build teams with women who have ties to the area.
That isn't forcing Driver to get players he wouldn't want because he knows the type of players the region has to offer. He owns three amateur women's teams, including the Diablos, in the area.
"The best players in the world want to play in this league," Driver said. "There are some good players here. Very good players."
The WPS debuted this year and is the top-level women's soccer league in the country. The Philadelphia Independence is its first expansion franchise.
The Independence will share a new stadium in Chester, Pa., with the Philadelphia Union, a Major League Soccer expansion franchise.
The competition was fierce at the Independence tryouts. Driver had eight women who were on the U-23 national team. Besides obvious skill, which all the athletes possess, Driver looked for those with determination and drive. He wanted to find players who want to play, not just hope to play.
In his view, there is a difference in those players. They're the ones who stand out.
"We're creating a team that could be competitive in Year 1," Driver said.
Being around these tough competitors gave Hall a new insight to the professional soccer world. While she competed at an elite collegiate level, only the best of those players are paid to play soccer for a living.
"It has showed what kind of players are out there and what I have to do to play in the WPS," Hall said.
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