By Roger Gonzalez
There are many variables when discussing a rookie franchise. No shortage of ambition exists, while excitement is high and realistic expectations can be hard to come by as the new team enters the unknown.
For the Fredericksburg Area Soccer Association, 2011 saw its W-League squad, the Fredericksburg Impact, experience its first season in the United Soccer Leagues. The ladies struggled to a record of 2-7-1, failing to win close games despite chemistry increasing over the course of the summer.
“It was a challenge,” second-year head coach Jennifer Woodie recalled in a conversation with The Soccer Wire this week. “Our record doesn’t really speak for the way we played. That’s the game of soccer — it’s really subjective. I think we were competitive in a lot of games. Four or five of those losses could have gone either way. It was just growing pains. We were new, really young.”
Now, it’s like night and day.
This term, after just three games, the Impact already has more wins than all of last season. Woodie’s team is 3-0, good for second place in the Atlantic Division of the W-League’s Eastern Conference, three points behind first-place D.C. United Women.
“We have some veterans and experienced players who have played for this league and know what it is all about,” the coach said. “When it comes to this league, you have to have the experienced vets as well, which we have this year. I think it is really pushing us this year.”
Forwards Becca Wann and Michelle Wycinsky lead the attack with two goals apiece, alongside midfielder Jennie Krauser, who also has found the net twice.
“It’s very exciting,” Woodie said. “Our attack looks so dynamic.”
A young defense anchored by French veteran Sandra Matute, who previously logged time in the now-defunct Washington Freedom system, has only allowed two goals in three matches. The team currently has a plus-eight goal differential.
“We had some injuries the week before game one that affected our back line,” said Woodie, who once starred at Virginia Commonwealth and now coaches at the University of Richmond. “Some people stepped up and filled the shoes. It is working really well.”
Woodie credits FASA management for much of the success this season. Even with last year’s difficult results on the field, the club was still nominated for the W-League Rookie Franchise of the Year award and 2012 has seen an intense focus on improved competitiveness.
“In year one, there were a lot of learning curves,” she said. “The feedback that was given and what they learned from other clubs, they applied it to the team this year. They have a very professional vision for the club. They have gone above and beyond.”
Of course, success raises expectations, and an even greater test awaits on Saturday. United Women visit the Battleground Athletic Complex at the University of Mary Washington, the Impact’s home pitch, at 2 p.m. for a match that will decide who finishes the weekend in first place.
For club officials, this is just the beginning, thanks to a great core and a coach who is demanding the best out of the players.
“With the additional players that were added this year, along with the core players from last year’s team, clearly Jen is attracting top players that are committed to taking the team to the next level,” club general manager Pete Cinalli said. “They are all incredibly competitive. The training sessions are very intense, which has certainly carried over into the games.”
It doesn’t look likely to stop any time soon.
“We have a burning fire,” Woodie said. “I’m not quite sure we had that last year.
“We are super excited. Just talking to the team, we are revved up [for tomorrow's match]. It is like the battle of the undefeateds. It doesn’t take much to motivate us. On paper, D.C. is a lot stronger than we are. The best role for internal motivation is take the underdog status and prove everyone wrong.”