Due to scheduling conflicts and uncooperative weather, we failed to make a Real Maryland match this past summer. I didn't try very hard, having also soured a bit on the United Soccer League's model in the face of the USL's repeated attacks aimed at the NASL.
Wednesday's announcement by the Tampa Bay Rowdies -- the NASL champions -- of Draymond Washington's new two-year deal (likely one year guaranteed and the second a club option) is a reminder of the value of Real Maryland and the USL Premier Development League.
We attended quite a few of Real Maryland's games in 2011 and Draymond, the team's captain, stood out as one of the most consistent, competent performers on the squad. He was not, however, targeted by any MLS squads after graduating from George Mason University. Instead, Draymond made the most of a trial with Tampa Bay earlier this year and earned his first professional contract.
Washington made his professional debut in May with four starts in a week and a half: first in a win over the Atlanta Silverbacks in Atlanta, then three days later in Tampa's second round U.S. Open Cup victory over Jacksonville United, then again three days later in a scoreless draw against the Minnesota Stars, concluding with the remarkable chance to go toe to toe with MLS players in the Rowdies' third-round Open Cup loss to the Colorado Rapids on May 29th.
Draymond started two more games for Tampa Bay in June before an injury to his knee, requiring surgery, cut short his season. Now, with a new contract, Washington will have another great opportunity at establishing a career in professional soccer.
It was one season -- 15 games -- but the time with Real Maryland afforded Washington an opportunity to further hone his skills as a defender (after starting as a forward with George Mason) against talented opponents in a competitive atmosphere. And for those outside of the MLS academy system, it is something that absent the USL PDL would be difficult to obtain.