Women’s soccer: Maine Footy makes an imprint in its Portland debut

May 23—Prior to its debut in Portland on Sunday, the Maine Footy women’s soccer team was a first-year organization playing in a women’s league with no prior history in Maine.

Would Maine Footy be able to draw a crowd? Would they be competitive? In essence, would they be relevant?

After Sunday’s well-played 1-1 draw against the New England Mutiny, it appears Maine Footy has gained a competitive toe hold — on and off the field.

Maine Footy, which also goes by the nickname The Tide, carried a 1-0 lead over one of the United Women’s Soccer league’s founding teams until the 89th minute on Sunday. The match was played in front of a modest but energetic crowd of approximately 350 fans at Deering High’s Memorial Field.

“Compared to teams in Massachusetts we seem like a bit more of a rag-tag type of team and we came out and showed them that we’re really good,” said Kristina Kelly of Lincolnville, who starred at Camden Hills Regional High and recently joined the University of Maine women’s soccer team.

The team’s inaugural game on Sunday also brought the United Women’s Soccer to Maine for the first time.

Formed in 2016, United Women’s Soccer is an amateur league with 40 teams spread across the country, 17 in the East Division. United Women’s Soccer and the 130-team Women’s Premier Soccer League are the two top amateur leagues below the country’s lone professional league, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).

United Women’s Soccer provides a “pathway to a pro level,” said Joe Ferrara, the league’s commissioner. “In the last NWSL draft we had seven of the (first) 10 draft picks come from our league. … (For) college players, it’s an opportunity for them to stay sharp and get fit for their fall season.”

Many of the United Women’s Soccer teams, including the Massachusetts-based Mutiny of Ludlow, Massachusetts, are the peak of a soccer club’s developmental pyramid.

Maine Footy is a stand-alone organization. It has emphasized community outreach targeted toward young female soccer players while building a roster that features several players with in-state connections. The club has sold over 600 season tickets in the form of Maine Footy T-shirts. Those T-shirts were prominent on Sunday.

“We just thought this was a wonderful way to spotlight women’s soccer in Maine,” said season ticket holder Kelly Roberts of Scarborough, in attendance with her daughter, Paige, and their friends Jennie and Isla Tribuno. Paige and Isla, both 10, each play on three different soccer teams. Their mothers appreciate that Maine Footy can provide them with female soccer role models.

“Absolutely. That’s why we’re here, so they can see women and to see that they can have a continued career (in soccer),” Jennie Tribuno said.

A couple of sections over, sisters Francesca and Elsa Freeman watched the action with soccer-savvy eyes. Francesca Freeman is a defender for Wheaton College’s Division III team.

“The intensity is a lot higher than you would see in high school and even in some college soccer,” said Francesca Freeman, noting that she had played club soccer with some of Maine Footy’s younger players. “It’s just the quickness of play. You can see the (way players) want to move forward with the ball and not just kick the ball forward.”

Elsa Freeman, a sophomore at Deering High, attended the invite-only 2022 U.S. Olympic Development Program national training camp.

“I definitely could see myself playing on this team in a few years and I would be excited to do it,” she said.

Madison Michaud of Gorham scored the first goal in Maine Footy history.

Michaud, coming off a freshman season at UMaine (one goal, two assists), put her team in front 1-0 in the 50th minute, with an assist from Audrey Fletcher of Monmouth. Fletcher, a University of Maine-Farmington junior, led the Beavers in scoring last season.

“Audrey won the ball and she passed it back and I took my chance and I hit it and I scored,” Michaud said. “It feels really nice especially just playing in front of my community and having everyone show up.”

After Michaud scored, the public address announcer boomed “Goal for Maine Footy,” but the score wasn’t posted. The scoreboard was inoperable throughout the game. The announcer did regularly update how many minutes had elapsed.

Maine Footy continued to control the 90-minute match for the next 20 minutes.

Kelly, a midfielder in college who scored 159 career goals at Camden Hills, was a calming and nearly impenetrable force at center back. She, team captain and right back Logan Nicholson (University of New Hampshire), and former Deering High and St. Anselm College star Alexis Elowitch kept the Mutiny from getting close to goal.

Anna Hurley, who spent one season each at Oklahoma State (2021) and Hofstra (2022), impressed with her speed and ability to play with the ball at her feet to create scoring chances. Hurley set up two close-range shots in the first half that resulted in a Fletcher shot that glanced off a defender and then the right post and a point-blank save against United Women’s Soccer veteran Kelly Quigley.

A second-half injury to Footy midfielder Sarah Peternel of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, (14 games at UNH in 2022) contributed to a switch in possession time. The Mutiny had won its season opener, 7-1, against Worcester Fuel FC but was without five players who were at a Taylor Swift concert Sunday in Foxborough, Massachusetts. With Peternel out, the Mutiny generated multiple scoring chances, capped by a 40-yard strike into the top of the net by Avery Klingensmith.

“For the first game as a franchise I’m pretty happy with how we performed,” said Maine Footy head coach Will Pike, who is the men’s coach at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish.

After the game, Maine Footy players stayed on the field to sign autographs and pose for pictures with youth players from the Portland Area Youth Soccer Association. At the next two home games, local club programs Maine Lightning (June 3) and Seacoast United (June 18) will have their turns to be the featured guest.

As the crowd thinned out, Maine Footy General Manager Justin Van Til said he suspects the larger soccer clubs could boost attendance.

“But to me, whether it’s 500 people or 1,000 people, everyone was engaged in the match. They were watching the match,” he said.

And, Van Til noted, they saw a competitive home team that is just getting started.

“I’m very grateful for the people that came for their support,” Van Til said. “From what we saw on the pitch, I’m proud of our girls. They had not played 11-on-11 yet. This was their first time. And we were playing a team that was 9-1 last year and had devoured Worcester 7-1 last week and we beat them in the first half. I think that says a lot in terms of toughness.”

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