The four-week old Philadelphia Fever will compete against some of the best professional women's soccer teams and players in America this year.
The Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL) Elite League, in which the Fever play, was formed after the collapse of Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) earlier this year.
The Fever will make the first of two stops at Egg Harbor Township High School at 7:30 tonight as the second half of a doubleheader with the AC Crusaders, a men's soccer team that plays in the National Premier Soccer League.
The Fever will play the Cheseapeake Charge.
"Everything was thrown together at the last minute," Ulises Terrones, the general manager and director of public relations and marketing for the Fever, said Friday by telephone. "But the hard work (putting the league together) has compensated for the lack of time to prepare for the season."
Despite only having a few weeks to prepare before their first game, the Fever didn't struggle to find talent to fill their roster.
"When you are selling the level of soccer we are playing in, these girls are happy to come on board and play against some of the best teams and players in the nation," Fever coach Stuart Gore said.
While some teams in the WPSL Elite League feature former professional players from the WPS, the Fever's roster is comprised mostly of college players. They are the only NCAA-compliant team in the league, meaning that none of their players are paid.
The Fever's roster includes NCAA Division I players, including Linwood native Blake Stockton, who played her high school soccer at The Hun School in Princeton and now plays at the University of Miami.
The WPSL Elite league includes two former WPS teams - the Boston Breakers and the Western New York Flash - as well as the Charge, the Chicago Red Stars, FC Indiana, New York Fury and the New England Mutiny.
"The 18-year-olds are getting an education in soccer from older players," said Matt Driver, an Egg Harbor Township resident who owns the Fever and the Crusaders. "Most of these young players are getting professional experience months before they go to play in college."
The Fever played well in their home opener against the Mutiny on May 20 in Washington Township, Gloucester County.
An experienced Mutiny team took a 2-1 lead at the half. But Myriam Bouchard, who plays for Virginia Commonwealth, scored a late goal to give the Fever a 2-2 tie for their first point of the season.
The Fever will play one home game at Birdsboro, Pa., and three others at Washington Township High School.
"The whole idea with the Crusaders and the Fever is we want to promote (the sport) amongst the youth," Terrones said. "Splitting the places we play will give more youth players the chance to see professional players firsthand in their backyard."
Year 2 for men's team
The AC Crusaders are in their second season in the NPSL's Northeast-Keystone Conference and Driver, the team owner who is also their coach, made major changes in the offseason. He kept only eight players from last year and brought in 11 new 18-year-olds.
Local players include: Adam Sternberger (Ocean City High School), Rodney Aguirre (Oakcrest), Evan Jaep (St. Augustine Prep), Neal Melchionni (Ocean City), Jeremy Ortiz (Hammonton), Anthony Procopio (Sacred Heart), Chad Severs (Ocean City), Richard Stone (St. Augustine Prep), William Swetra (Absegami), Nico Tramontana (Sacred Heart), Adam Williamson (Ocean City) and Paul Erbacher (Egg Harbor City resident).
Severs, who is also the Holy Spirit boys soccer coach, scored the game-winning goal with 30 seconds left to give the Crusaders a 4-3 victory over Junior Lone Star of Philadelphia in their season opener on May 20.
The Crusaders will play the Jersey City Eagles FC today at 5 p.m. at Egg Harbor Township. The Crusaders will play three other games in EHT this season.
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