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Photo courtesy Oneonta StateStamford and Oneonta State graduate Mary Velan made the preseason roster for Sky Blue FC of Women-s Professional Soccer, a seven-team league that will begin play at the end of the month.

Mary Velan just showed up one day.

The rest is history.

Former Oneonta State and Stamford Central soccer standout Velan, 22, made the preseason roster for Sky Blue FC of Women's Professional Soccer after taking part in an open tryout last month in Wall Township, N.J.

"She definitely caught our eye," said Sky Blue FC assistant coach Kelly Lindsey, a former U.S. Women's National Team member who played for the San Jose CyberRays of the defunct Women's United Soccer Association from 2001-03. "She sprinted the entire session and never stopped moving. Her face was beet-red the whole time. ... We decided she was that player who deserved a chance."

Velan certainly took a chance when she arrived at Goodsports USA, a 10-acre sports complex that hosted the open tryout Feb. 25. The facility is about an hour's drive from Stevens Institute of Technology, where Velan embarked upon a coaching career as a full-time women's soccer assistant this past July.

Lindsey said roughly 50 hopefuls came out for the open tryout and about 20 _ Velan included _ were invited back for an afternoon session and a follow-up the next morning.

When it was over, Velan joined former Syracuse goalie Shannon Myers and former Division II midfielder Courtney Nash (Saginaw Valley State) as the only tryout candidates to receive invitations to Sky Blue FC's first training camp. The bulk of the 30-player preseason roster, which features mostly women with Division I and international soccer experience, has been training together in Greensboro, N.C., since last Sunday.

Four roster members _ Christie Rampone, Heather O'Reilly, Natasha Kai and Kacey White _ are in Portugal with the U.S. Women's National Team. They are expected to arrive at Sky Blue FC's training camp in mid-March, along with Cyprus Cup participants Anita Asante of England and Kelly Parker of Canada.

The team will have two cuts before it returns to Sky Blue FC's home base in Somerset, N.J., at the end of this month. Sky Blue FC's season opener is April 5 against the visiting Los Angeles Sol.

"Everyone who's in camp has an equal opportunity to make the team," said Lindsey, who added the roster will be trimmed to 24 players March 13. The final cut is set for March 25, when 18 women will make the team and four others will be designated as developmental players for the inaugural season of the seven-team WPS.

"For her to go into open tryouts then to invitational camp and then to making the roster, you'd have to consider her a longshot," said Patric Santo Pietro, Sky Blue FC's manager of new media and communications. "But she's got about a 60 percent chance at making it. Spots are definitely open, but it's hard to say who will get them."

Lindsey said anyone who doesn't make the team this year will have a better shot at turning pro in 2010, when the WPS expands to 10 teams.

"She's right on that edge and she can get in," Lindsey said of Velan, the 2002 Daily Star Player of the Year as a Stamford junior who earned four straight Division III All-American honors at O-State and graduated in 2008 as the program's all-time leader in points (169), goals (71) and assists (27). "But she could find herself in the W-League for a season and, within a year or so, you'll see her in the WPS. The league will expand next year, so these players who don't quite make it this year should play in the W-League because they'll have a great chance (at making a WPS team in 2010)."

The W-League is part of the United Soccer Leagues and, Lindsey said, requires players to compete on an unpaid basis for most of the summer.

"It's definitely a commitment they have to make," she said. "They don't get paid, but that's the kind of commitment and sacrifice they have to make."

Red Dragons athletic director Tracey Ranieri said Velan has the tools to compete at the highest level of the sport.

"She was scouted by so many Division I programs, but there's not a lot of difference here between a lot of D-I athletes and what we were doing with our program," said Ranieri, who coached Oneonta's women to an NCAA Division III title in 2003, the year before Velan joined the program. "It's the value of the person, regardless of the school they come from. It's the individual who makes the mark.

"She was just such a determined, courageous player and her fitness was far superior," Ranieri continued. "She could go in and play every position. She was more committed than you could ask for. Those are the role models we want to create. ... A lot of athletes really plan for the game, but Mary always planned for practice. That just made games that much easier. Practice was her time to shine because if they don't do it in practice, you can't expect them to do it in a game. She made everybody around her better."

Apparently, that's something else that Lindsey noticed during the open tryout and training camp.

"She's been great at camp," Lindsey said of Velan, who has honed her skills with the Queensbury-based Adirondack Lynx of the Women's Premier Soccer League since 2006. "She fits right in. What we saw at the tryout is what we're seeing at camp. We're looking for team chemistry and top-notch players who are all supportive of one another, and she's fitting right in."

While Velan is known locally as a scoring machine _ she amassed 163 goals at Stamford before her record-breaking four-year stint at O-State _ Sky Blue FC is trying her out as a defender.

"We challenged her a little bit and put her as a wing back to see how she could handle it," Lindsey said. "I asked her if she ever played defense and she said, Nope, but I will.' She was very responsive and receptive to the idea, and she said, If that's what you want me to play, I'll do it.' She has the right attitude."

O-State coach Liz McGrail, who took over for Ranieri in 2007, said Velan has the potential to excel on defense.

"She can do it with her instincts and her speed back there," said McGrail, also a former Stamford and O-State standout whose first season coaching the Red Dragons was Velan's last. McGrail graduated from Stamford as the Section Four record-holder for all-time goals (173) and from O-State in 2001 as the college's then-all-time leading scorer (137 points). "She reads the game well, and at that level, defenders need to start the attack."

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Dean Russin can be reached at drussin@thedailystar.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 215.

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