Jeff Cup: Northerners travel south for soccer opportunities
By Michael Willis
RICHMOND, Va. — Most Virginians have no idea how good they’ve got it when it comes to weather, but if you speak with someone like Michelle Leehan, you might start to appreciate the wonderful weekend weather at the Jefferson Cup a bit more.
Michelle is the mother of McLean Leehan, who plays for the U17 MPS Renegades and is competing in the Elite grouping this weekend. McLean and the rest of her team hail from Massachusetts, a place where sunshine and warm weather like this doesn’t come often, or ever, during the winter. Playing during the winter time is out of the question, and once the girls end their high school soccer in early November, it’s rest time until March, when the grounds thaw enough to play on.
“Our season in New England just started now,” said Michelle. “We train all winter, but we don’t get to come out until March to start playing soccer. We don’t get the opportunity to play outdoors like other teams, so it’s going to take us a little bit of March to get in shape.”
Geographically speaking, the Renegades are at a bit of a disadvantage in that they cannot play yet. Michelle expressed similar sentiments during my brief chat with her.
“Its a little bit of disadvantage, yeah. We went to Las Vegas a couple of years ago [around the same time as this year], and those teams are already in shape [compared to us]. Their high school season is different, and they were entering the high school season,” she said.
In fact, Michelle later told me that they have tried to compete at a few different tournaments in the New England area to no avail. Weather forced them to cancel one tournament when 21 inches of snow was dumped onto the turf. On another, a few games were played before the Renegades had to call it quits due to snow “coming down sideways on the field.” It’s just too cold to play in the winter.
That doesn’t mean the girls aren’t going to every possible tournament they can in hopes of being noticed. The team has been as far as San Diego just to find top flight competition, so traveling to Richmond for the Jefferson Cup is nothing for these road warriors. And by most accounts, it’s paying off. McLean recently committed to Brown University in Providence, and there are several other girls who are also actively being recruited.
Sure enough, the rust showed through a bit when McLean and the Renegades fell on Friday, 4-0, to the Bethesda Freedom 95/95 ECNL, a team from a more southern climate capable of playing nearly year-round. With any hope though, they’ll be back into playing shape by the second or third game.