The STATE of Soccer in WASHINGTON
by David Falk
The National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) recently announced 19 new clubs will join it’s national structure in 2013. Their map shows how the entire Pacific Northwest is without representation. Meanwhile, Major League Soccer and USL PRO have announced a partnership to combine resources, players and matches between MLS Reserves and what is the third division in American soccer.
The state of Washington is without clubs in the North American Soccer League (NASL), USL PRO and the NPSL. These leagues constitute the second, third and shared fourth divisions of semi-pro and professional soccer in the United States.
US Soccer raised the requirements to field an NASL club to a level that might make any argument for such a team in our state a very difficult one. Where could one land with a big enough market to give it a fighting chance? Tacoma? Spokane?
The USL PRO is connecting with Major League Soccer’s reserve league. This new partnership could eventually turn into a boon for our state, perhaps most notably for the Kitsap Pumas, who seek to jump up from the fourth division PDL at some point. When asked about the possibility of MLS Reserves playing in the USL PRO, Kitsap head coach James Ritchie says: “The Pumas still have the goal to play in the USL Pro and this could be great for us. The problem has always been having few teams on the west coast. Joining before would have meant constant trips to the east coast. So anything that could create an avenue for the Pumas to play at a higher level would be great.”
Instead of playing the Whitecaps, Sounders and Timbers U23 teams like the Pumas currently do, they could instead face those same clubs at their reserve (MLS roster) level. Add in LA Galaxy, Chivas USA, San Jose Eathquakes and current USL-Pro side LA with future USL-Pro side Sacramento, and one can see how a dynamite coastal league could have plenty of clubs to stock it.
The National Premier Soccer League still intrigues me because it is not specifically a ‘developmental’ league. Rather, it is a football club league with players of various ages and fewer centralized rules. This allows owners to explore their markets and test the waters more fully, at what was at one point a cheaper cost than joining the USL PDL.
It’s almost an all-or-nothing specter for the league in the Northwest. Right now, it’s nothing. To build a division that would allow for car / bus travel the NPSL would need at least four clubs to come into our area the same season.
It’s an open market in Washington and the NPSL could be sold as “higher” than the PDL because of its roster openness and football culture in places like Detroit, Cleveland, Chattanooga and elsewhere. Great spots in our state for NPSL clubs could be Spokane, Vancouver, Tacoma, Olympia, Yakima, Tri-Cities, Wenatchee, Port Angeles, and Bellingham (United moving up.)
Will our state ever be soccer “complete” without an NASL side? Maybe not, but it seems the most far-fetched of options.
More likely and maybe even most interesting would be to see us stock and grow our culture with third and fourth division sides in USL PRO and the NPSL.
If I had the cash, what would I do? Enough of the green stuff and I would fund four-five teams in a new NPSL Northwest Division. What five cities would I pick? Spokane, Tri-Cities, Yakima, Olympia and Vancouver.