Summer odyssey
Buff surrounds three-week European trip with Silverbacks soccer

It's tough to blame Monica Buff for wanting what most recent college graduates do after they don the cap and gown for the final time.

A job is of course a major goal. So is a celebration trip, a journey to celebrate the four-year rigors of earning a degree.

The Parkview grad had an ideal opportunity for the latter this summer, allowing her to see a considerable portion of Europe with some of her best high school friends. Unfortunately the vacation was scheduled dead in the middle of the Atlanta Silverbacks Women's soccer schedule.

"I told (the Silverbacks) I wasn't going to play because I didn't want to be halfway committed to them," Buff said. "But they were really great about it."

So Buff got to play some early-season games with the Silverbacks. Then she got to visit places like Italy, France, Amsterdam, Germany and Switzerland.

Now she's back home, wearing the red and black jersey of Atlanta's top women's soccer franchise. She missed five games, but she's ready to help the team she's played for the past three summers in the stretch run of the season. Atlanta, 7-2-1, hosts the Fredericksburg Lady Gunners in the regular-season home finale Friday night.

"It's a lot of fun (to play in this league)," Buff said. "It's definitely fun to play at such a high level and fun to play a different position. The girls are great. The coaches are great. I guess in the back of my mind the WUSA's there, but it's more of a fun thing right now."

The WUSA is the Women's United Soccer Association, and it's the goal of many players in the W-League, the Silverbacks' current home. The WUSA, including its Atlanta Beat franchise, operated from 2001 to 2003 before ceasing operations.

The league is discussing a relaunch of North America's top women's professional soccer league, perhaps as early as 2008.

"I would love to (play in the WUSA), if I was talented enough to do it, at least for awhile," Buff said. "I'm not sure how it's working, when the league's coming back, how many teams there will be and if I can be competitive at that level."

If the opportunity for pro soccer comes up, the 22-year-old may give it a shot.

But she also has a nice backup plan.

Buff graduated May 11 from Vanderbilt with a degree in economics, but she also took all the science courses necessary to work in the health field. She has been accepted into the University of Alabama-Birmingham's School of Public Health, with an education track in maternal and child health.

She still hasn't decided firmly on a career, but there's a good chance she'll continue to have soccer in her life. As long as her nagging back injury, which caused her to take two months off this spring, doesn't bother her.

"I don't know how long I'll play (competitively)," Buff said.

"I guess it depends on when I'm ready to move on. But as long as I'm enjoying it I'll keep playing."

SideBar: Soccer

' What: Atlanta Silverbacks Women vs. Fredericksburg Lady Gunners

' When: Friday, 7:55 p.m.

' Where: RE/MAX Greater Atlanta Stadium, Atlanta