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New League the Ultimate in Scoring

Soccer: Modification of rules create fast-paced games designed to attract fans.

July 27, 2001|ERIC STEPHENS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The scores shock the average soccer fan.

64-20. 50-42. 78-34.

If that isn't wacky enough, how about the 114-0 result dealt last weekend to the Malibu Wave Breakers by the Pasadena Star Gazers?

What kind of goofy league is this?

The Ultimate Soccer League began play last month featuring standout college players and several rule changes designed to promote scoring--and attract fans.

"When people see a score like 67-30 in soccer, it makes them take notice," league president Josh Hodge said.

Instead of a regulation 110-by-75-yard playing field, teams play on an 80-by-50 surface with eight players on each side instead of 11. Other rules eliminate offsides and allow free substitution. Twenty-minute quarters take the place of 45-minute halves.

The eight-team league of college-aged women competes on Saturdays at various Southern California locations, and team nicknames range from the nonsensical (Huntington Beach Rip Tide) to the bizarre (Moorpark Moon Stones, Mission Viejo Raspberry Roxies). Four games will be played this week at El Camino College in Torrance. The league's championship game--the Ultimate Cup--will be Aug. 3 at Orange Coast College.

Ultimate Soccer is the sport's latest answer to the age-old complaint about soccer not having enough action or scoring.

The Major Indoor Soccer League incorporated the game into arenas on a much-smaller field with an artificial playing surface. For 14 years, it produced interesting, if nontraditional, soccer before folding in 1992.

Other leagues, indoor and outdoor, have either come and gone or trudge on with modest success using long-standing rules of play.

But Hodge, a businessman who conceived the idea for Ultimate Soccer two years ago, hopes to capitalize on players looking to stay sharp during the off-season and the sport's popularity, which has materialized in the professional Women's United Soccer Assn. He sees Ultimate Soccer as a prime draw, given that the WUSA has no team in the Los Angeles area despite the large Southern California youth soccer community.

"We have primarily families with young girls going to the games," he said.

Those involved praise the league's organization from the use of experienced coaches and referees to the use of announcers.

"The play is well organized," said Pasadena Coach Teri Collins, who also is the girls' varsity coach at Long Beach Poly. "The games are called tight."

The most glaring change in play is the allotment of seven points per goal, a rule directly influenced by football. In addition, the team that scored is allowed to attempt a three-point conversion kick from 35 yards out through, in essence, metal posts that sit atop the ends of the goal front.

Not everyone has been a supporter. Hodge said he has a number of e-mails calling the changes a threat to the integrity of the sport.

But fans such as Amelia Foreman, 25, of Aliso Viejo say the rules create a high-speed form of soccer without abandoning its nuances.

"I can appreciate the 0-0 game but others might not," said Foreman, who played in high school. "For the general public, it's probably better."

Hodge said he anticipated a backlash from purists, and proceeded with caution.

"What we really did was talk to as many fans as we could and asked them what they would like to see," he said. "Most of the people wanted more scoring."

But the league is more than gimmickry, supporters say.

It features Southland-based players from all college divisions. Many prominent in-state and out-of-state universities, including NCAA runner-up UCLA, encouraged their players to take part. Recently graduated high school players were also invited.

For players, the league is an opportunity to compete in the summer.

"Just getting to play at this time of the year is an advantage," said Shannon DeVos, who will be a sophomore at Cal State Northridge. "It's getting me in shape for the season."

Hodge, who is already planning on a 2002 season, said his biggest thrill is watching young girls charge the field for autographs after each match. "When we see the people out here enjoying themselves," he said, "it encourages us to keep doing what we're doing."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Ultimate Soccer League

What: The eight-team women's league for Southland-based college players plays four games beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday at El Camino College, Torrance. Ultimate Cup competition takes place at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 3 at Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa.

Cost: Admission is $5 to marquee game, but free for other three. Face painting, a rock-climbing exhibition and other kid-oriented activities available.

Top players: CiCi Peterson (UCLA); Jill Dobens (Loyola Marymount); Kristi Bissonnette (Pepperdine); Jackie Fodor (USC); Tennli Ulicny (Cal State Fullerton); Twila Kaufman (Arizona).

Teams: Moorpark Moon Stones, Huntington Beach Rip Tide, Santa Monica Sea Splash, Pasadena Star Gazers; Malibu Wave Breakers; Pomona Sand Storm; Manhattan Beach Blue Dolphins; Mission Viejo Raspberry Roxies.

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