Naimo led the Wildcats to the back-to-back W-League Championships from 2004 to 2005.
Almost five years ago to the day, Charlie Naimo and the New Jersey Wildcats won the 2005 USL W-League Championship. As is the case with every Naimo-led team, the rosters he compiled for the Wildcat teams during that era were what would eventually be a who's who of women's soccer. In light of the anniversary of that title run, I asked Charlie if he would reflect back on that time, and the end product was another fantastic post from the three-time W-League champion.
John asked me to write about the 2005 Wildcats championship, but as I thought about looking back, most of the memories directed me to the team of 04. Both teams were amazing in their own right, but the 04 side was what started it all and was PKs away from a perfect season. That team never trailed in a game the entire year, breaking every W-League scoring title at the time. I believe we scored 80-plus goals.
That was a year I would say we were untouchable when we had the first choice players available. We had the best player I have ever seen (Kelly Smith), the most professional player (Anne Makinen), the best finisher (Marinette Pichon) and the best up-and-coming American star/winner (Heather O'Reilly). On top of that, there were so many other players that did amazing things. As I said in previous posts, it was always great to plug my top youth players in with this mix. They knew the style. They were good enough and very disciplined.
This team wasn't just a special team on the field. We were very close off as well. Led by great ownership, Vince and Ciro Baldino (04 only), there was always something going on. Even the bus trips were fun. Unfortunately, we had our share of bad luck, starting with the loss of Kelly Smith midseason as a result of the worst challenge I have ever witnessed in women's soccer. The memory/nightmare will forever stay in my mind. Kelly was and remains a treasure for women's soccer, and all she ever got was kicked. Referees never learned to protect her… and I can go on and on.
The team pulled it together, and we managed to beat Ottawa (the host) in the semi and had to turn right around less than 24 hours to play the final... dumb scheduling the more I think about it now. We were already down Heather , Carli Lloyd (National Team), Manya Makoski (MCL sprain in semi), Kelly Hammond and Jen Redmond ( had to report early for UVA preseason) AND the best player in the world. We were overmatched with the crew we had that day, especially since Marinette and Anne were on the more senior side of their career and needed a day to recover ;-) We needed a great plan and full commitment, and we got it. I have never been more proud of a team. We knew we had to steal that game, 1-0, and we almost did. It remained 0-0 through 120 minutes of play, with us missing a few of the game’s rare chances. Oh, one more thing- this was the game that Tobin Heath made her W-League postseason debut at 15 years old.
I have this habit of looking back to that team, especially during years like this. It was my first major league group, and I learned how to adapt from elite youth to pro very quickly because I learned how to listen and trust my players. I owe that crew a lot. They started it all. The Wildcats went on to win it all in 05 and had a 41-1 regular season record from 04 to 06.
After a brief stint with Sky Blue, off to Cali with Pali, and the rest is history or a work in progress - depending on how you look at it.
Thank you Kelly, Heather, Anne, Manya, Beth, Lara, Baldinos, Mansouris, PDA and so many others for a great career so far.
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