The STATE of Soccer in WASHINGTON
The 2011 United Soccer Leagues Annual General Meeting (AGM) produced a bit of a surprise for soccer fans in the state of Washington. Alex Silva, owner / operator / head coach of the North Sound SeaWolves had successfully lobbied to increase the number of playoff teams in the Northwest Division from two to four. This weekend that approved format goes into action as the first-place Sounders U-23′s host Washington Crossfire and the second-place Portland Timbers U-23′s host the Kitsap Pumas.
“The reason I proposed this to the league,” Silva explained at the time, “is because I want to see all clubs succeed in the Northwest division and around the US. We need to make it more exciting for all, especially the players. I don’t want to see any players dropping from their clubs in mid-June, as you know that many clubs suffered last year, to not be able to have enough players for the last few games. This format will benefit all clubs.”
Washington Crossfire at Sounders U-23′s, Saturday July 14, 7:30 PM, Franklin Pierce High School
Tacoma, WA – The Sounders FC U-23 will kick off their 2012 PDL playoffs campaign on Saturday night at Franklin Pierce Stadium at 7:30 p.m. They will host the Washington Crossfire FC, a team the Sounders U-23 faced twice during the regular season, and were twice the victor. Free admission will be allowed for any fan wearing a Sounders U-23 T-shirt that can be purchased on SoundersU23.com.
The top four teams in the Northwest division qualify for a chance to play in the PDL Western Conference Final Four, but must first face each other to decide which two teams will move on. The number one seeded, Sounders U-23, will face the number four seed, Washington Crossfire. Number two also faces off against number three, which pits the Portland Timbers U-23 against the Kitsap Pumas.
The winners of these division first-four games move on to face qualifiers from the Western Conference’s Southwest division. FC Tucson awaits the winner of the Sounders U-23 vs. Washington Crossfire match, and the winner of the Timbers vs. Pumas match will face the Ventura County Fusion.
The side that manages to emerge from the heap will be considered the Western Conference champion, and will qualify to represent the west in the PDL Championship final four. The final four consists of conference champions from the leagues four conferences: Central, Eastern, Southern, and Western. The Central Conference will face the Eastern Conference qualifier, and the Southern will play the West.
In order for the Sounders U-23 to reach the National Final Four, they must take the first step by defeating the Crossfire for the third straight time in 2012. In their previous meetings with Crossfire, the Sounders U-23 kept the Redmond, WA based club’s goal scorers off of the score sheet. The Sounders won 2-0 at home, and then 1-0 on the road.
The WA Crossfire finished their regular season losing four straight matches. However, a strong showing during the middle portion of the season earned them enough points to hold on to the fourth spot in the NW Division standings.
After suffering a 0-3 loss to the Kitsap Pumas at home on June 15, the Sounders U-23 closed out the season winning six in a row. The streak included road-wins over the Timbers U-23, Crossfire, and the Pumas, outscoring their opponents during the stretch 18-5.
For more information about Saturday’s match, including how to purchase tickets, visit SoundersU23.com. Reminder, fans wearing a Sounders U-23 T-shirt, or purchasing a shirt that can be picked up at the gate, will get a free ticket to the match! Then, follow us on twitter for inside information and live updates from the match @SoundersU23.
Kitsap Pumas at Portland Timbers U-23′s, Sunday July 15, 6:30 PM, Gladstone High School
They finished third in the PDL Northwest Division — the first time they have done so in club history. They will also miss the U.S. Open Cup tournament next season for the first time ever. Now they have to head down to Portland for the second time in a week for a 6:30 p.m. start time at Gladstone High School for their playoff match against the Timbers. There will be no streaming video, but fans can follow the team’s official Twitter feed for updates on the match.
Both defender Taylor Hyde and manager James Ritchie are disappointed they will miss out on the Open Cup next season, but both said the team cannot dwell on it as they get ready for their match against the Timbers.
“It’s a huge loss,” Hyde said. “The biggest bummer is that we had it — we were within four minutes of (defeating the Sounders U-23 July 6) and taking first, and there’s no one to blame but ourselves. It’s a huge bummer for the club because it’s an accomplishment we’ve achieved the past four seasons. But our primary focus now is beating Portland now. That’s all that matters. We haven’t focused on the repercussions because we’ve been so focused on Portland.”
“Anytime something doesn’t go your way in this game, you can’t dwell on it,” Ritchie said. “All you can do is learn from things that have gone wrong in the past and work on your mistakes and improve. We’ve got to do a job. The goal at the beginning of the season is to try and defend the championship. That’s still the goal.”
The extra day will help those players who are dealing with bumps and bruises, though Ritchie said he doesn’t expect anyone to miss the game.
He’s excited for a match that features the last two teams that have won the PDL championship. Kitsap has a 1-1-1 record against Portland this season, with forward Ben Truax scoring all three goals against the Timbers.
“We’ve played each other three times now,” Ritchie said. “Regardless of what they do, I feel their players know our players. We know them. We want to keep it (the championship) and they want it back. It’s going to be a great game.”
Ritchie also said it will be a “baptism by fire” for many of the first-year players as they encounter their first playoff as professionals.
“The players just need to go out and do what they do,” he said. “All other factors need to go out the window. If they execute the plan, we should do well.”
Hyde felt their late drop in form may motivate them to do better, bringing up their 1-0 loss to Victoria in the last game of the season last year.
“Maybe it will be a blessing,” he said. “It’s like ‘We don’t want to feel like this again. ‘ Let’s let that fuel us and remind us that we’re not as invincible as we think we are. Let’s let that stay with us through the playoffs.”
He also said the big key to their success Sunday will be limiting their mistakes.
“We’ve got to mark up their two big forwards (in Mark Sherrod and Erik Hurtado). They play well together, so if we shut them down and avoid counterattacks, we should be fine. Offensively, we’ve spent all week working on what we need to work. Our forwards are coming into top shape and that’s going to be crucial for us.”
Ultimately, Ritchie wants to keep this roller coaster of a season going.
“I’ve had so much fun,” he said. “I told the boys ‘Let’s keep this thing going for a few more weeks.’ I’m enjoying it. I don’t want it to end now. Let’s get into regionals and see where this thing goes.”