The STATE of Soccer in WASHINGTON
by David Falk
It was a memorable season for the Women’s Premier Soccer League (www.WPSL.info) in the Northwest. A new club in Oregon and two new clubs in the Seattle-area added competition and drama to what turned out to be a down-to-the-wire finish for the division title and a playoff spot. When all ten matches were in the books for the clubs, it was the second-year Spokane Shine who took the 2012 WPSL NW Division crown.
(Relive the Spokane run to the division title in our Shine category archive: http://goalwa.wordpress.com/category/spokane-shine/ and see much more on the team at INWsoccer.com.)
I’ve got a personal connection to the Shine. I was the soccer fan who submitted the name they eventually chose for their side. So of course I have followed the club’s exploits with a bit of extra interest. Part of that has been keeping contact with Shine head coach Jason Quintero. The two of us recently found ourselves messaging back and forth on Facebook about women’s soccer in the Northwest. I promised Jason a formal series of questions about the great Shine campaign, and he delivered a series of honest answers.
Putting together a division champion
The Spokane Shine and most other higher-level women’s clubs across the United States get their talent from colleges and overseas players who want to come to America for the summer. It’s a crazy thing to work ten months putting together a side for a two-month season, but that is where the Shine and the sport find themselves right now. “Players from our 2012 roster come from a variety of sources. Throughout the fall, winter, and spring, I’m fielding many random emails and phone calls from players around the country and the world that want to come play for Spokane Shine,” says Spokane head coach Jason Quintero. “Since winning our division in July, it’s picked up big time with lots of overseas talent expressing interest in playing here next summer. Some of our 2012 players are players I’ve gone after and recruited as well, and others are based on coaches recommendations from colleagues I have that are coaching in the college ranks across the country. In addition, we have a strong core of local talent to build around with the out-of-town players.”
The 6-2-2 Shine only scored 16 goals over ten matches, but they had the stingiest defense in the Northwest Division, allowing just seven goals. Quintero says two-way players made a big difference. “Versatility was something we were blessed with going into the season. We had multiple players who could play a variety of positions. We had a player who plays left back for the U20 Scotland national team and trains with the full Scotland team, Lisa Robertson, who played probably five different positions for us, mostly in the midfield. Averi Hallman (University of Memphis) has played up front, out wide, and in the back for a college squad that has been ranked in the top 25 the past couple years. Shannon Lindsay (University of Montana) has experience at centerback and outside back. Maggie Schrader was probably the most solid center back in the division. When injuries and other stuff came up and we had to move players around or change formation, we didn’t miss a beat. Another blessing in disguise is that we gave up a couple really soft goals early in the season. Our players’ competitive nature took over after that and they knew they were better than how we started. I think we won something like four of our games 1:0.”
The Shine held it all together in the center of the park. “To me, the holding midfielder is the most important position in women’s soccer, and we had a couple of beasts in Alyshia Madison (Jacksonville State University) and Darci Smith (South Carolina State University). Honestly, if I wasn’t 6’2 and male, I wouldn’t want to get into a fight with either of them. And of course, Smith and Madison both had extensive experience at multiple positions as well. Between them and Schrader we were simply tougher than every team down the middle. I’m not sure I’ve seen girls that tackle harder than those three.” Quintero quickly adds, “and our goalkeeper, Stephanie Busch (St. Mary’s) had at least one save a game where you just, as a coach, have to sit back and say “wow”. She’s so calm and composed, even under the pressure of holding a 1-0 lead, that it really infiltrates the team’s demeanor.”
Quintero had a strategy to win matches as the division race heated up, and it worked due to his players’ skills. “Thanks to our versatility, near the end of the season when we were low on defenders and needed wins, since draws wouldn’t give us the points to win the division, we would start games in a 3-5-2, play risky, and push for the first goal, then get it and sit back in a 4-5-1 and look to counter, and we had the intelligent players to be able to do so and shift formations without having to make wholesale substitutions. Being able to change your style on the fly without needing to change personnel really provides a fluidity to the game that players appreciate,” says Quintero.
‘Also, our average age of our starters was probably the oldest it’s been in the three years I’ve been coaching in the league. We had an experienced group, mixed with some strong up and coming youngsters such as Kara Marbury, (a Mead High School junior who has committed to University of Illinois) and AJ (Allison Jordan, New Mexico Highlands University) that played older than their years, thanks to the experience around them on the pitch.”
Division Champs endure Shock Ending
The Shine at one point felt that a division title might have fallen out of reach. “We went into the last few matches knowing that after we gave up a stupid loss to Portland at home midseason that we had to win out to even have a chance, and that even then we would need help from other teams to get in,” recalls Jason. “After we won our last two games, we had to wait til the next night to see the result of Issaquah vs Emerald City. I’m usually anti-twitter (I still don’t get what the point is of taking pictures of your breakfast and posting it to twitter is) but I must admit I was following their game live on it and our staff and players were as well.”
No sooner had the Shine won their first-ever division crown when news was already spreading that the club would default their hard-earned playoff spot to second-place Issaquah. At the time I reported it as a mainly financial decision. However, Qunitero explains there were several factors behind the choice. “As for not traveling to San Diego for the regional playoff, it really was a no brainer. We had about 11 healthy field players and a couple GKs that were able to make the trip to San Diego,” he says.
“As I mentioned before, I was in contact with over 60 players locally and from out-of-town who said they’d be playing in Spokane during the summer. The thing in dealing with college aged kids is knowing that their lives can change in a moment’s notice. Julissa Rodriguez had some things come up right before she was to arrive in Spokane and had to spend the summer in Tri Cities with her family. Possibly the best junior college player in the country, Taryn McClendon, had to take summer school to stay eligible and told me a week before she was to fly here that she wouldn’t be able to make it. Our import from the Taiwan national team Tseng Shu-O, spent most of the season hurt, maybe playing in 5 games. Darci Smith scored the game winner against Portland then blew her ACL in the 92nd minute of that same game. Alyshia Madison got called to the US Navy four months earlier than expected and had to leave mid-season. A couple of our youth players had club commitments. And a couple of our players had to report early back to their colleges for “captain’s practices” before the August 1st NCAA start date for their programs. With a depleted roster, we would have had to book flights, hotels, and transportation 4 days before the game, then if we won that weekend, turn around and do the same thing for the Final Four in Florida. We looked at what our program would gain from making that trip and it was pretty much nothing except for spending way too much money that we would never see a return on. We’d rather use that money more wisely and improve upon our organization and take pride that we were the best team in the division in 2012.”
The track record of recent Spokane soccer franchises meant fans couldn’t be blamed for rolling their eyes at the developments. The Spiders folded, the Black Widows were squashed (then the Shine were formed. Quintero was the Black Widows’ head coach in 2010), now the Shine were defaulting a playoff spot on the end of a great, dramatic late-season charge. Quintero knows about the history, but says the Shine were not alone in dealing with the realities of running a women’s semi-pro club.
“I heard from around the league that many of the other regional playoffs were actually called off and they were going down the standings looking for teams to fill in,” he says, ” like we did with having Issaquah go in our place. It’s just too hard for clubs of our stature, even with leading the division in attendance, to being able to fly an entire team and staff across the country twice in two weeks with only a few days notice.”
The WPSL season of 2013 will begin with the Spokane Shine as reigning Northwest Division Champions. “I can’t tell you how excited we are for 2013. I anticipate maintaining a core of our solid contributors from 2012 and look to improve our roster even more. Like I said before, I’m getting contacted from places I’ve never even could have imagined recruiting from, such as the Cameroon and Nigerian national teams. I think with the new women’s pro league starting up, many players are looking to top-notch WPSL sides like ourselves as a stepping stone to get noticed for a chance to get into the pro league in the future, which is smart on their part. Plus, there’s a certain appeal for female players from around the world to come to America to play soccer, as we are somewhat seen as a Mecca of women’s football around the world. The word is out now that Spokane is a very good option to play at a high level and even though we are technically an amateur team, we treat our players as professionals on and off the pitch.”
Quintero says more player news could be just around the corner. “Success breeds success and I’ve been fortunate to have three winning seasons (one as the “Black Widows”) and a division championship to continue to build upon. I’m very excited to see what 2013 will bring. In fact, we’ll be announcing our first 2013 signing very shortly as soon as all the details are confirmed next week.”