June 26, 2001
SAN JOSE, Calif. - With each week, it seems, Mandy Clemens gets better and better. She agrees, her coach agrees. Everyone seems to think that with a bit more time, Clemens will be as dazzling and as dangerous as she was as the most prolific striker in Santa Clara University's history.
Clemens was one of the three founding players allocated to the Philadelphia Charge back when the WUSA was a 24-player league. She went with Lorrie Fair and Saskia Webber to the Charge, which immediately added the word "young" to any description of the Philadelphia team. Fair and Clemens were among the youngest of the allocated players, and the Charge were seen as a team for the future.
The future, of course, began in the first week of the season and Philly has been living in it all season. With a 5-3-2 mark entering Wednesday's game with the Bay Area CyberRays, the Charge have flirted with first place all year long.
And since her team has decided not to wait for the future, Clemens has been a bit antsy when it comes to her own performance. She got off to a slow start to the season. She has played in nine of the Charge's 10 matches and started six. She scored her first goal of the season on June 3 in the Charge's seventh game of the year, a 2-1 win over Washington in which Clemens also had an assist.
"I don't think I was prepared coming into the season," she said. "I took a long time off from soccer, and I think it's taken a while for my body to get into a soccer player's body. But I've made progress. I'm starting to feel to stronger and feel more like a soccer player."
Her time away from soccer was spent in Australia, where she went after not being invited to residency training camp with the U.S. national team as they prepared for the Olympics.
"I wanted to be away from soccer for a while," she said. "I was pretty disappointed about not getting asked into residency (for the Olympics). I was burned out and I wanted to just be Mandy, not Mandy the Soccer Player."
But she came back ready to be Mandy the Professional Soccer Player, ready to make an immediate impact on the WUSA. It didn't happen, but if hard work is the answer, Clemens is on the verge. After a game in New York on Sunday, a long bus ride back to Philly, and a short nap, the Charge flew to San Jose. Upon their arrival, the players were given the choice of a workout in the pool, or on the field. Clemens and six others chose the field.
She spent the entire training session playing as if it were the 89th minute and her team needed a goal. When it was over, she did some ball work on her own. The following day, as the team was training lightly on the Spartan Stadium turf, Clemens was the one asking for "Just one more."
"I think I've started playing better and I've started meshing with the team a little bit better," she said. "We started playing some more combination soccer, and I think that suits me more."
Charge coach Mark Krikorian said that there is a noticeable difference in his striker lately.
"Mandy is coming," he said. "Last weekend against Carolina, she scored a nice goal. But more importantly than that, she had a very good game. In the games against Washington she was dangerous and busy. Her defending is getting better. She does well combining with her teammates. We are all getting on the same page."
Krikorian also believes that the way in which the coaching staff works with her has helped.
"I think she is more comfortable with the staff and teammates now," he said. "And I think she is starting to find her niche in the team. Mandy is now recognizing that we have faith in her ability, and we are doing a better job too."
If there was a time that the Charge needed Clemens to step up, it's now. In what Krikorian calls a "very difficult stretch for us," Philly is at the end of a three-games-in-10-days stint. And they are without Kelly Smith, their main offensive weapon, and Doris Fitschen, their most important defender, as well as key midfield components Fair and Laurie Schwoy.
And it seems like the Bay Area - where she did all that damage to Santa Clara opponents - is the most logical place.
"It's a different feel being back here in Bay Area," she said. "It's where I had my college career. I have a lot of memories, good memories."
And Clemens and the Charge are hoping her return will be a memorable one.
© womenssoccer.com 2001