A pair of prouder-than-usual proprietors are supervising the activity at Rego Park’s London Lennie’s these days. Greer Barnes, daughter and granddaughter of the seafood restaurant’s owners Leslie and Joan Barnes, has just capped off an accomplished college soccer career with a stunning new coup - she has been drafted into the big leagues.
The Los Angeles Sol, a Carson, California-based team in a brand-new league called Women’s Professional Soccer, selected Barnes 24th overall in the inaugural WPS draft on January 16. The honor will move Barnes out west for the first time since growing up in Rye, New York, and attending college at West Virginia University.
“To be drafted and have the opportunity to play professionally has been a life-long dream,” Barnes said in a university release. “Heading out west is exciting, and I look forward to playing for [head coach] Abner Rogers and [general manager] Charlie Naimo.”
The move will make Barnes a pioneer in one of sports’ fledgling enterprises. The WPS has been founded to replace the Women’s United Soccer Association, which went defunct in 2003. Seven teams will suit up for the league when the inaugural season opens in March, with up to three teams to be added in 2010. New York’s representative is known as Sky Blue FC and will play on the campus of Rutgers University in New Jersey.
“When the WUSA league ended, I wasn’t sure this opportunity would come again,” Barnes said. “Now, to be part of the inaugural game to kick off the WPS league, that is very exciting.”
“When she first entered college, the WUSA was just folding up. … I guess she was a little disappointed thinking that there wasn’t anywhere to go after college, because if you didn’t make the women’s national team, then your soccer career was basically over,” her father, Leslie Barnes, told The Courier.
“It was after her junior year [that] the rumors were coming out that the WPS was coming back. Her hopes were buoyed by that. She went into her senior year very focused on having another good year, and her coach told her, “There’s a lot of buzz out there for you. You’re gonna get drafted if you continue to play the way you’re playing.”
As a college player, Barnes, a 5’7” midfielder and defender, was named an NSCAA All-American in both her junior and senior years. Sustained by her remarkable tendency to shoot up the left wing and make plays from the fullback position, Barnes’ Mountaineers won a conference title in 2007 and reached the NCAA tournament every year of her tenure.
It was during a non-televised soccer coaches’ convention that Barnes and her family learned she had been drafted by the Sol, who will use her as a midfielder. Twitter - that social networking service characterized by short, text-based Internet posts - announced the draft results.
“We were all so excited, especially when we saw it was Los Angeles,” said Leslie Barnes, who followed along with family just as his daughter did from West Virginia. “They have that famous Brazilian player there, Marta [Vieira da Silva], and we just couldn’t believe that she was going to play there.”
“The Sol already signed the best player in the world in Marta,” Greer Barnes said. “I can’t wait to get started.”
In Los Angeles, Barnes will be thrown into the most vibrant soccer culture that exists in the United States today. She will play alongside Marta. She will play at a soccer-specific stadium, the shared home of David Beckham’s Los Angeles Galaxy. And she will play in front of thousands of fans who care deeply about the world’s game.
“California is a real women’s soccer hotbed,” Leslie Barnes said. “It’s got such fan support there, not only in the Latino community but among the young girls and their families too.”
All this just 12 years removed from the first time Greer Barnes took to the soccer field. She played intramural ball on co-ed teams, and it did not take long for her athleticism to show under the tutelage of coaches like Eastchester’s Steve Davis.
Now, she is part of a new experiment - and she’ll be part of the action from the very beginning. The WPS will start play at a Sol home game on March 29, when Barnes’ team plays host to the Washington Freedom. One week later, the Sol will return to Barnes’ home when they take on Sky Blue FC on April 5.
Leslie Barnes has high hopes for his daughter’s young league.
“They want to play. They want the league to be successful,” he said. “The players are playing for the love of the game. It’s a great thing.”