Real Maryland: Newer, younger, better

Montgomery County natives power new-look Monarchs in 2011

by Dan Greenberg | Staff Writer

Tess Colwell/The Gazette

Wootton graduate Ryan Gracia (right) scored the second goal in Real Maryland's 2-0 victory Sunday over the Northern Virginia Royals at Richard Montgomery's Roy Lester Stadium.

For its fourth year of existence, Real Maryland FC decided of its own accord to drop down two tiers in the American soccer pyramid.

This is the first season in which the Rockville-based club is not a professional outfit in the United Soccer Leagues (USL), instead featuring a roster mostly of college players home for the summer.

Club majority owner Victor Moran cited two reasons. A third, which he did not mention, was palpable in their home opener Sunday.

The new-look Monarchs play with flair not visible in years past, and they secured their second win in 24 hours with a 2-0 victory over the Northern Virginia Royals at Richard Montgomery's Roy Lester Stadium.

"We decided to make an economic decision," Moran said. "But we also wanted to build a team for the future. These guys, when they finish college, will still be here."

As a bonus, the Monarchs play with more skill than ever before.

They are doing it with local roots. Seven Real Maryland players are from or currently reside in Montgomery County, and four started against the Royals.

One is an African native who recently moved to Rockville, striker Ndaw Aboubacarim. The biggest man on the field scored the first goal in the Monarchs' latest win just six minutes into the action, powering through a defender to run onto a ball and beating Northern Virginia's goalkeeper left side while falling to the turf.

Three others starters played in high school for Montgomery County public schools, and all will play for George Mason (Va.) University in the fall.

Left back Draymond Washington has been a striker for almost his whole life, and owns a share of Magruder's all-time, single-season goal-scoring record. He was moved to the back four in his junior season with the Colonials, but still enjoys penetrating up the flank.

On the game's first goal, he pick pocketed a Northern Virginia striker and sent a ball up the sidelines to start a fast break.

"Last summer I was in the same league, playing up in Reading [Pa.], but saw that this was so much better," Washington said. "The big thing is we won today, so we qualified for the U.S. Open."

The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open cup is open to teams in all leagues of the United States Soccer Federation, from Major League Soccer to amateur club teams. The 40-team competition begins in June, and though PDL teams do not traditionally fare well, Washington said, "I know we can go far."

Part of the reason is two of his year-round teammates. Center midfielder Julio Arjona, who led Clarksburg to a Class 3A state title in 2009, will join George Mason this season after transferring from West Virginia University.

Another is rising senior Ryan Gracia, a 2008 Wootton graduate who scored the game's second goal. In the 22nd minute, the diminutive right midfielder stepped in front of a Northern Virginia pass in stride before chipping a 35-yard wonder strike over the Royals' out-of-position netminder.

"That's my dream goal," Gracia said. "I try that all the time in practice and it drives Dustin [Butcher, another George Mason and Real Maryland player] crazy. Now he got to see me do it to someone else."

Gracia will graduate from George Mason after one more semester, and then hopes to try out for teams locally or internationally. As he put it: "If I do well this season, maybe MLS, but maybe overseas. Right now I'm not going to be that picky."

But as Moran would hope, he would also consider playing for Real Maryland next year, something he had not even dreamed of months ago.

"I had no idea about this team, other than the Mason kids that were going to be here," Gracia said. "But right now, I like what I'm seeing."

The fans must, too. Real Maryland had never before won its first two games.

"I've seen the teams in this league and they're good," Washington said. "But we can win the championship."

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