Leigh Cullip went from idea to inspiration to business plan, presenting his dream to the Issaquah Soccer Club board a few months back. Now he’s got a small army of volunteers marching with him towards the 2012 WPSL season.
I recently conducted interviews with three leaders in women’s soccer: WPSL Comissioner Jerry Zanelli, Issaquah WPSL Head Coach Leigh Cullip and Issaquah Assistant Coach Niki Taylor. During our visits I learned that the new Issaquah SC side will actually be two teams. ISC will field a senior side in the WPSL, and also a U23 side. Issaquah will gather talent from all over the world in 2012, enriching what is already one of the best regions for women’s soccer in the state of Washington.
The first in our three-part Issaquah WPSL series was an interview with first assistant coach Niki Taylor. Today we talk with ISC WPSL head coach Leigh Cullip.
by David Falk
Leigh Cullip grew up in South London. He played in the systems of Crystal Palace, Fulham and Wimbledon, amongst others. When it became clear to him that his playing days were over, he went to work on becoming the best possible coach he could be. Several years, experiences, and licenses later, he brought a dream to the board of the Issaquah Soccer Club. The dream is now becoming a reality: Issaquah of the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL).
“The vision of our board is incredible. For the board of a youth club to take on two teams in its first year…they are such a great reservoir of knowledge for us to draw from,” says Cullip of the people who gave his dream the green light. “I believe strongly our girls need to have more to aspire to. We don’t develop players to play in college. We develop players because it is the right thing to do. Wouldn’t it be great that if in five, six, seven years that Issaquah WPSL was filled with players that started in the club at 13 years old, and that’s where the bulk of our players came from?”
Early days and early praise
Issaquah SC has held a successful combine, and already signed a few gifted players. Now Cullip says the work is underway to define roles and work cooperatively. How can ISC succeed right from the start? “It’s a collaborative effort. It’s about everyone working, and attention to detail, to the roles that they have. In the first year of anything it is almost like a start-up. You (the head coach) have to know what’s going on, you have to hear everyone’s opinions. Everyone’s pitching in with different areas of expertise at this point.”
WPSL Commissioner Jerry Zanelli paid Issaquah SC a grand compliment the other day when a league press release noted “Seattle” as being interested in going to the professional WPSL Elite league being developed for 2013. “Seattle” was actually ISC. Don’t jump the gun, says Cullip.
“We are really in the embryonic stage right now. We are very pleased that Jerry Zanelli is expressing confidence in us and our organization. We feel that we have the organizational structure to go forward. We’d rather keep our eye on the ball for doing well in the WPSL and developing players this year than worry too much about WPSL Elite. It was quite the compliment that the league mentioned us in the nationwide press release.”
Issaquah: Women’s soccer hotbed
When ISC held their player combine in January they had enough of a turn-out to warrant adding a U23 team to go along with the senior side. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. The greater Issaquah / highlands area produces women’s soccer champions at the club, premier and high school level.
“I can’t let you know. It’s a secret we don’t let out,” laughs Cullip when I ask him about why greater-Issaquah / the east side creates such good players “I don’t know. I don’t think I have been here long enough to give a definitive answer. It’s likely all about the coaches in Washington. Lesle Gallimore, Michelle French, all of them. ISC is happy to be where we are and we are very proud of the players we’ve had and do have.”
The U23s are going to be an important bridge between the senior WPSL side and the youth club.
“We are fitting them in with what our ISC youth club development vision is as well as what the WPSL vision is,” Cullip explains. “The decision was to make our player pool bigger. With such a short season we think this is very important. Development is an over-used term in America. Players don’t stop developing at age 24. Our vision is to create an environment where we can push players. We’d love to push them on to the professional ranks here and abroad. It would be as great a pleasure to produce players that went on to win international league or country titles as it would be to win WPSL titles here in Issaquah.”
Friendly with the Sounders Women could happen
Leigh and ISC have met with the other King County Women’s club, the Sounders Women of the W-League. “I’ve got nothing but the highest respect for Michelle French. She’s a fine coach, an incredible person and I have had nothing but positive interactions with her,” he says.
“We’d like to schedule a few friendlies. Let’s see. Let’s see what their schedule looks like (in May).”
“We are all here for the same reason. To create winning women’s football. Would we like to play and beat the Sounders Women? Sure! Whatever the leagues are at the highest level in the women’s game, they should all be here (in Puget Sound) to help develop our local players.”
Training and an Italian star
“We hope to be playing friendlies by May. We will still be waiting on a couple of players, including Alessandra Nencioni (translated), from Fiorentina. She won’t be able to arrive until late May due to the Italian league season,” Cullipo reports. “More or less though everyone should be out mid-May so we can have a good solid week of training. If we do play the Sounders Women, we want to make sure we are ready to play a friendly (in pre-season).”
In the meantime Issaquah Soccer Club has put in an order for some really classy soccer kits, and is planning on debuting them at a community get-together in late March. Watch here for details.