The Wash is David Falk’s take on the world of soccer in The WA.
by David Falk
Almost no one on the outside saw it coming. The Victoria Highlanders of the Premier Development League had been held up as a model soccer franchise. Crowds over 1,000 per match, solid media coverage, organized support, multiple teams in multiple leagues. Then a few weeks ago it all came crashing down.
The news came as swiftly as a Cristiano Ronaldo free kick, and the result was as painful as taking the soccer superstar’s blast off your torso. The Victoria Highlanders Football Club ceased operation on Saturday, the announcement coming via an emailed news release. Financial losses became such a strain that owner Alex Campbell chose to fold the club, which was formed in 2008 and began play in 2009. It was just two seasons ago that the Highlanders’ men’s team advanced to the Final 4 of the United Soccer League’s Premier Development League. “There had been a small group of investors that I had been talking to since March or April of last year, and when they pulled the plug, that was probably the last straw,” Campbell said. — Victoria Times Columnist
To all appearances the Highlanders did well. They exorcised the demons of the troubled CSL Victoria Vistas, who played only two seasons. Top ten in USL PDL attendance every year, a solid supporters culture by league standards, and no shortage of victories. Three times the Highlanders made the playoffs (hard to do in the Northwest Division), with a good run in 2013 as division champions. This past season saw a playoff appearance plus their first Juan de Fuca Plate, the supporter-created British Columbia semi-pro championship. Popular local players like Tyler and Jordie Hughes, Andrew and Adam Ravenhill, and goalkeeper Elliott Mitrou combined with memorable veterans like Blair Sturrock, Riley O’Neill, and former Canadian international Manny Gomez to create a likable, talented crew. Last year they were even nominated for a USL PDL marketing award. — Maple Leaf Forever!
The news left the rest of the PDL Northwest Division scrambling to come up with an alternate 12-match schedule. The Vancouver Whitecaps had already shuttered their PDL team. Calgary Foothills FC comes in this year as a new side.
Our region has now said hello and goodbye to a bunch of PDL clubs over the years: Everett / Puget Sound Bigfoot, Cascade Surge (Salem Oregon), Spokane Shadow, Spokane Spiders, Yakima Reds, Abbotsford Mariners, Vancouver Whitecaps Residency, Victoria Highlanders. There have been re-brands and relocations with Seattle Wolves FC becoming Washington Crossfire, Tacoma Tide FC becoming the Sounders U23 and the North Sound SeaWolves (Everett) becoming the Puget Sound Hammers (Issaquah.)
The collapse of the Highlanders is a reality check for local soccer followers like me. Are each of our PDL clubs just one missed corporate sponsor away from crashing? Are they all tied to single owners that act as “sugar daddies” for them to exist? Is raising your local club scarf proudly over your head an act of bravery as much as pride? Is this the state of soccer at the 4th division level in the USA right now?
The answer to most of the questions above is “yes.”
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