The Girls Next Door

The author, far left, and her Western New York Flash teammates after their win over magicJack last month.

There’s not much going on in the small town of Orchard Park, N.Y.

Main attractions include the driving range and movie theatre. But living in several obscure apartment complexes, dispersed throughout this suburb of Buffalo, reside some of the best women’s soccer players in the world.

At 10:00 a.m. every morning, in the often overcast and sullen area, a fútbol team assembles and files into the locker room of Sahlen’s Sports Park. But it’s not just any fútbol team. It is arguably one of the top several women’s club teams in the world, with international superstars like Brazil’s Marta, Canada’s Christine Sinclair and Sweden’s Caroline Seger. These players, among many other talented women, take the field in Western New York Flash training gear.

“Work” officially begins at 10:30 a.m., and for anywhere between an hour and two hours, some of the highest-level women’s soccer anywhere in the world takes place on the turf inside the indoor facility. Fast-paced, one and two touch fútbol is more than occasionally sprinkled with a jaw-dropping moment of individual brilliance by Marta.

After training, the team changes back into street clothes and returns to everyday life in Orchard Park. Our neighbors, who are mostly elderly, see us leave and return, and although friendly and often fans of the team, likely have no idea the caliber of athlete living next door.

This has been my life for roughly the past three weeks. Right now, the Flash remains undefeated, with six wins and one tie. If you’ve been able to catch any of our games either live in Rochester or on Fox Soccer Channel, you know that we play an exciting mixture of possession and attacking fútbol. In fact, if you’re a W.P.S. fan, you’ve probably noticed that the overall quality and level of play in the league has improved dramatically each year.

It’s no secret that the first two-and-a-third seasons of W.P.S. have been tumultuous. Since the inaugural season in 2009, we have seen four franchises fold, had one move and added three teams. I am now at my second W.P.S. club, but some players have suited up for as many as four different clubs.

As players, the uncertainty can be nerve-racking. But being part of a club like the Western New York Flash gives me a lot of hope in the longevity of what is not only a league to me, but my job and my passion. We do this because it’s what we love and because we are devoted to our clubs and our teammates and everyone who is working hard to make W.P.S. succeed.

That’s why this weekend, as we entered our hotel in Philly and Marta was instantly mobbed by screaming youth players (not just girls) and even some parents, the blockade in front of the elevator only made me smile. One of my teammates transcends the role of “women’s soccer player.” She is a celebrity, and that showed me that despite whatever uncertainty surrounds W.P.S., things are going in the right direction.