Real Maryland's demise has me pondering a bit more the club's impact. I have focused predominantly on players like Mason Trafford, Joe Funicello, Jonathan Borrajo (recently released by the New York Red Bulls), and Draymond Washington because there was something about their play at Richard Montgomery High School that stood out -- making the trip to Rockville seem worthwhile.
In the summer of 2011, we went to Richard Montgomery largely to check out how a number of players with connections to the University of Maryland's program were doing. We ended up seeing impressive individual play by a group of players attached to George Mason University, including Dray. The kid that most captured attention was a crafty, diminutive winger just finishing his college career. Ryan Gracia had scored 15 goals in four years for George Mason, but seemed to score at will for Real Maryland.
I completely underestimated Gracia and trained my eyes on him in a vain effort to discern the flaws that would prove that he was not as good as the Terrapins who were not getting many opportunities on the team. Yet, in every match that Gracia played and we attended, he continued to impress.
Until yesterday, I had assumed that a failure to land a contract with a USL Pro squad at the beginning of the year meant that Gracia was not going to be given an opportunity to play professional soccer. Not true. Having found nothing to his liking here, Gracia went off to Scandinavia, trialed with the Swedish fourth division side Bodens BK and earned himself a contract in February. Gracia's rookie year went well enough that he was able to parlay the experience into a contract with Nykoping BIS to play in the Swedish third division in 2013.
I get that playing in Iceland or the Aland Islands or in the Swedish third division is not something that captures the hearts and minds of American soccer fans, but the fact that these opportunities are available and that American (and Canadian) players are seizing them is quite remarkable. Gracia is 22 years old. While conventional wisdom dismisses the ceiling of collegiate players, the best American outfield player played college ball until he was 20. Over the next few years, Gracia can, if he so chooses, chase a dream that eluded virtually every American that has ever shown competence with a soccer ball at his feet.
That's pretty cool. So is the fact that little Real Maryland played a part in making that pursuit possible.
I am going to have to get used to the idea of getting up to Bel Air on a consistent basis in 2013.