Aug. 14, 2001
by John Philip Wyllie
PHILADELPHIA - "Awesome."
That's the way Philadelphia Charge forward Mandy Clemens described her feelings following Thursday's 1-1 draw with the San Diego Spirit. Kelly Smith's timely goal, which Clemens helped set up, knotted the score in the second half. And that was all the Charge needed to defy the "experts" and gain their spot in the Women's United Soccer Association post-season tournament.
Philadelphia, the league's fourth-place team, will open on the road in Atlanta against the top-seeded Atlanta Beat on Saturday at 6:45 p.m. EST. For Clemens, a playoff berth adds a wonderful high to a season strewn with both highs and lows.
As a former collegiate Player of the Year for the Santa Clara Broncos, Clemens was thrilled at 22 to be among the youngest allocated stars of the WUSA start-up. But when play began, she found herself in a reserve role in the Charge's season-opening 2-0 victory over San Diego.
Clemens' coach, Mark Krikorian, had goalkeeper Saskia Webber, another allocated player with national team experience, sitting on the same bench. Krikorian no doubt sent a message that previous accomplishments, no matter how great, were of little value on his team.
"It's been very difficult, and I think a lot of players feel the same way about the roller-coaster ride it has been," said Clemens reflecting on her up-and-down season. "Basically, what I've learned through it all is that you just have to keep playing your game, but that is a really difficult thing to do."
The competitive atmosphere that Krikorian created for each and every spot on the field turned out to be one of the keys that forged the league's youngest team into a playoff participant. Clemens for one, has responded to Krikorian's challenge, one she considered a test of character.
With five goals and two assists on the year, Clemens placed third in scoring for the Charge behind Chinese international Liu Ailing and Britain's Kelly Smith. Her late-season, two-goal game against Carolina on Aug. 6, however, might be an indicator that Clemens is saving her best for last. She has been shut out in three previous attempts against the stingy Beat defense, so perhaps she is due for some better luck this time around.
"I think I'm feeling stronger physically and getting to know the players around me a little better," says Clemens. "We've learned to combine and get a better rhythm going."
Clemens will have her work cut out for her in trying to penetrate Atlanta's stifling defense. With Briana Scurry staring back at her from her goal line behind a defense usually consisting of Kylie Bivens, Sharolta Nonen, Dayna Smith, and Lisa Krzykowski, Clemens faces a tough challenge.
But then overcoming challenges is what Clemens' season has been all about.