Area fans can see some of the world's best young players when a new women's soccer team debuts this May in Colorado Springs.
The Colorado Pride, a longtime area club for ages 4-22, added a W-League team to expand its offerings after college.
"We offered soccer from age 4 up but it was bewildering that as a player was entering her prime, their career was over, unless they were one of the 1 percent who could play in the pros," said general manager Sian Hudson. "We added U20 and U23 teams so it's been an evolution if you will. This will allow college and post-college players to work toward becoming professionals."
The pro-am league is one step below the professional National Women's Soccer League, the female equivalent of Major League Soccer.
The 22-player roster will include 11 current college players, including local products Jessie Ayers, Sarah Schweiss and Kaeli Vandersluis of Colorado College. Colorado-Colorado Springs midfielder Hannah Levett is also on the squad.
Ayers played for coach Daniel Clitnovici when he led the Colorado Rapids women last summer. Levett, Schweiss and Vandersluis grew up playing for Pride youth teams.
The Pride, which has players from Australia, England, and Germany, open league play against the Cherry Creek-area Colorado Storm at 7 p.m. May 22 at Colorado College's Washburn Field.
Since none of the players are paid, NCAA players maintain their amateur status.
Five played professionally before in the NWSL or overseas. They and the college players hope to develop their games against strong competition and be noticed by pro scouts.
Hudson said the club is working to develop area business partnerships so the nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization can cover costs, which includes travel, and line up housing families and summer jobs for the players. The team also plans to do significant community outreach through clinics, camps, and special needs programs.
The Pride will play in the Western Conference against teams from Arizona, California, Colorado and Washington state. The 12-game regular season lasts until mid-June with the postseason to follow. The league has 25 teams in the U.S. and Canada spread out over four regional conferences.
The 20-year-old W-League is part of United Soccer Leagues, which oversees USL Pro. The expansion Colorado Switchbacks will enter that men's league next summer. There is no formal connection between the two area teams though they plan to collaborate, Switchbacks president Martin Ragain said.
May 5, practice begins
May 17, Intrasquad scrimmage, autograph session, time TBA, El Pomar Youth Sports Park, 2212 Executive Circle
May 22, Opener vs. Colorado Storm, 7 p.m., CC's Washburn Field, Tickets $8 adults, $5 children