The STATE of Soccer in WASHINGTON
The injury, which he also suffered in college to the same knee when he collided with another player in a sliding tackle, would have kept him out for at least the regular season. Even he didn’t think he would play for a few weeks. He could have bagged it and tried to get healthy for the playoffs.
A goalWA.net special feature by John Becerra, Jr. for KitsapPumas.com
But with Kitsap in danger of possibly missing the playoffs after their dismal weekend against Vancouver and Victoria, Friesen didn’t want to let it end that way.
So Friesen saw team trainer Dr. Forrest Hartford, who works for Smith Chiropractic and Dr. Greg Duff of West Sound Orthopedics for three and a half to four hours each day – sometimes twice a day — the following week to get ASTYM and ultrasound therapy, along with liberal use of ice, to get him healthy. Friesen also did what he could to keep mentally strong.
“For me, a big part of getting healthy is getting your mind thinking about it,” he said. “So with me focusing all my time on it and them spending the time on it helped me (to get through therapy). But I trained on Thursday and I thought, ‘this isn’t good enough — I’m not going to play.
“But on Friday, I was sitting around and I was like, ‘I gotta take a bunch of Advil and play.’ I didn’t want to lose that game and I thought I could help.”
So Friesen, who had been cleared to play the day of the match, called manager James Ritchie two hours before the game to convince him to let him play.
Even after Ritchie was on the fence about it, Friesen called assistant coach/goalkeeper Dustyn Brim — who was standing next to Ritchie — to try and plead his case with Brim to get Ritchie to let him play.
“All I can hear from Dustyn’s phone is ‘You’ve got to convince him to let me play,’” Ritchie said with a big laugh. “I know everything that’s being said on the phone.”
The persuasion paid off, as Friesen, who started at forward but moved back to the midfield when Kitsap went to 10 men, scored the equalizer in their eventual 2-1 win over the Crossfire to claim the Ruffneck Cup. He then scored both goals in a 2-1 win over the North Sound Sea Wolves two days later to help the club clinch a playoff spot. Friesen was only supposed to play for the first half, but ended up playing the whole game.
Those three goals over the weekend gave him 31 in 79 games across all competitions for the club, making him the Pumas’ all-time leading scorer. He’s also put a few balls in the back of the net for the indoor team as well.
“He’s a wolverine,” Ritchie said. “He just gets in there and sticks it. And what a talisman for the team. How important is Matt Friesen to this team? He’s a competitor, he’s a fighter. I love Matty – he’s a good friend of mine and he’s such a special player.”
He’s found himself in the right place at the right time over the years to score several goals that have been the equalizer or put the team in the lead.
But his favorite of the 31 he’s scored? That would be the now famous ‘no-angle’ shot that he scored in the national semifinal game against the Thunder Bay Chill last season that put the team up for good. He was inches from the endline, yet fired in a strike that somehow got past the goalkeeper and just snuck inside the near post.
“We needed that goal to get to the finals,” he said. “I had a terrible angle – I sliced it, so it was curling right – and it hit the back bar on the far post. I wasn’t thinking I was going to score. It was more of a hit and hope. I hoped enough, I guess.”
Ritchie also liked that goal (“He had no business shooting that,” he said with a laugh), but another favorite was the volley from 25 yards out that he scored in Kitsap’s home match against the Sounders U23 this season. He also liked the two free kicks he put home in Kitsap’s 6-1 win over the Tacoma Tide last season.
Friesen said he never thought he would achieve that high-water mark when he signed with Kitsap four years ago.
“We’ve had some great players over the years,” he said. “Stephen Phillips, Robby Christner — I’m surprised they didn’t score more goals. But it’s cool… its an accomplishment. Not a lot of midfielders do that… I don’t expect myself to score goals, I just find myself in good places. They’ve just been going in.”
Matt Friesen has become an institution at the club, playing for both outdoor and indoor squads and becoming a leader in the process.
Born and raised in Newberg, Ore., a town of a little over 22,000 25 miles south of Portland, Friesen started playing soccer at four years old. His dad wanted him to play baseball, but Friesen was not interested.
“He wasn’t a soccer guy,” Friesen said. “He just wanted me to play something, and soccer was it.”
Friesen played soccer, basketball and golf in high school. He was 5-foot-4 but hit a growth spurt after his sophomore year where he grew nine inches. Friesen turned to soccer full-time after his junior year. He also played soccer for several years with his club team, Portland City United.
It wasn’t when he headed to Whitworth University in Spokane after graduation that he said he discovered a passion for the game. That was thanks to friend and teammate Ali Seyedali, who inspired him to work on his game.
He was also inspired to improve by French legend Zinedine Zidane, Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard and Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard. Friesen said those three made him want to become a better midfield player.
“It (soccer) was just something I did (growing up),” he said. “I loved it, but I found the passion for it and to work on the technical side, which is one of my strengths, in college. I’d show up early to practice every day and work on stuff on my own. It’s no secret how people get better – it’s working every day.”
The motivation to get better, to compete even when not at 100 percent also stems from Friesen’s competitive nature. He hates to lose and wants to prove he is the best at what he does, silencing all doubters in the process.
“Whatever it is – even if it’s a shooting drill – I think ‘Can I make more goals than anyone else?’” he said. “Can you be better than the other person even when they’re trying their hardest? I just love competing. I love the challenge of proving people wrong and show them I can play.”
The work he put into his game helped as he was part of three Northwest Conference title-winning teams in his four years at Whitworth. The Pirates made the Final Four of the NCAA Division III soccer tournament in 2005. Though he didn’t start his freshman year, Friesen worked his way into the lineup, earning first-team All-NWC honors his senior year. He competed against future teammates Taylor Hyde and Mark Conrad (who went to the University of Puget Sound) and Stephen Phillips (who went to Willamette).
After graduation, Friesen made his way to Belgium to play for Royal Racing Football Club Montegnée, a fourth-division club in Saint-Nicolas. He performed well in preseason, but work visa issues forced him to the bench. They were eventually sorted out so he got to play in a few games before leaving in January due to differences with the club.
“It was a little bit frustrating because I played so well and they really liked me,” he said. “We were playing first and second division teams. But my visa didn’t come through so I sat on the bench for a month.”
Upon returning to the States, former teammate Eli Gordley, who he met while playing at RRFC, told him about a team in Kitsap that was starting up. But it was former Whitworth coach Nelson Larson who got him to meet former Puma assistant Andrew Chapman and go through the tryout process. He made the team and played in every game but one under former manager John Wedge and scored four goals.
The next season he came off the bench for the first few games, but, motivated to prove any and all doubters wrong, Friesen worked his way into a starting role. He led the team in scoring with six goals.
The past two seasons he’s led the team in goals and points in the regular season while helping the Pumas to a Northwest Division title, a Western Conference title and a PDL national championship. He’s proven he’s durable despite the injuries by playing in every game the club has taken part in and playing over 1,000 minutes every season.
Friesen has also taken on more of a leadership role over the years. That stems from his time spent as a coach in the area. Friesen has been an assistant at South Kitsap High School and at Olympic College when Ritchie was the head coach and he’s the head coach for the North Mason boys soccer team.
“I feel like one of the leaders on the team, but I lead differently,” he said. ”Taylor (Hyde) and Dustyn (Brim) are very good vocal leaders. I organize us vocally on the field, but I like to go out and take care of business and hope that everyone sees what I’m doing and tries to do the same. I’d rather take someone aside and tell them how to be more effective rather than motivating the team with yelling. That’s not my style.”
It’s a far cry from when Friesen started with the team in 2009. Brim said he didn’t like him at first.
“But it’s because I didn’t get his sense of humor,” he said. “Now, me and him get along real well. He’s such a character.”
Friesen admitted it takes people a while to figure out if he’s cracking a joke or not.
“I’ve got a unique style of humor and it takes some time for people to get used to it,” he said. “It’s not the first time I’ve heard it. Me and Taylor weren’t that close for a while – I think he felt the same. But now we all share the same sense of humor. I don’t know if I’ve changed or they’ve changed. I think I’m a nice guy.”
But there’s no laughter when he says he wants to repeat as PDL champions.
“I think that’s an amazing feat and it would say a lot about the guys that are still here,” he said.
With the Pumas’ season near an end, Friesen said he doesn’t know where he will be next year. He would love to join with a upper division club somewhere and prove he can play at a higher level.
“Hopefully if I keep doing what I’m doing, someone will take notice,” he said.
He would also love to prove a college coach, who said he couldn’t play at the pro level, wrong.
“I told him ‘I want to play pro’ and he said ‘I don’t think you have what it takes,’ and if I did, I’d have to play (as a) defensive midfielder,” Friesen said. “That’s always been in the back of my mind, so one day when I sign a contract, I can say ‘Look at that.’”
Ritchie said he would love to see Friesen move to where ever he can to show off the kind of player he is. While Ritchie said he may not look imposing, his quality lies in how he reads the game and knows where he needs to be to make the pass or to score a goal.
“I wouldn’t want to play against him,” he said. “It’s great to have him on the Pumas, but we can keep him for so long before people come in for them.”
“He’s done a fantastic service to the club for the past four years,” Ritchie continued. “He’s been so loyal and that says so much about his character. That’s another reason why a team will want him because he bleeds for the cause.”
If he does leave, Friesen said he will be satisfied with what he’s done with the Pumas.
“It’s such a hard thing – my knee hurts and my feet hurt and yet I want to come out and train,” he said. “I thought about moving on and getting a job, but it’s such a hard thing to wrap my head around, not training and not having that camaraderie with the team.
“I thought this would be my last season (playing soccer) but now I’m having a good season,” Friesen continued. “I’ve done pretty much everything you can do in the PDL. I definitely feel like I’ve accomplished a lot here. I’m not going to look back negatively on it at all.”