BREMERTON, WA— The Kitsap Pumas of the Premier Development League and the Olympic Force of the Evergreen Premier League are becoming more than just friendly neighbors. They are actively supporting each other and even exchanging players.
“I think the partnership between the Force and the Pumas is fantastic for both parties,” says Olympic’s EPLWA Head Coach Kevin Skinner. “Since Cammy arrived he and I have gotten on very well. We see the game in a similar way and that’s been beneficial for the whole of the county not just our men’s program. We both want to be part of a united soccer community not just a club and that is something that Kitsap County is quickly on its way to becoming.”
The “Cammy” Skinner refers to is Cameron MacDonald, the Head Coach of the Pumas, and also the guy who penned an open letter to the Kitsap soccer community as his Pumas Youth were merging with Kitsap Alliance FC. “I think the Kitsap Pumas and Olympic Force working together is a no-brainer,” says MacDonald. “There is no excuse for clubs who are within close proximity of one another and who compete in different leagues to not work together. It’s been fantastic for us to get some of our younger players and those on the way back from injury valuable minutes in a completive environment. It also allows us to track the development of young local college players who may look to play for the Pumas after graduating.”
The Force got off to a slow start when some of the guys they were counting on were injured or late to arrive. The Pumas sent over some of their guys and since then Olympic has won 3 of 5 league matches. “We started the preseason with what I think was a very good squad but due to some injuries and work and commitment issues it was hard to really get a settled squad at practice,” Skinner says of the Force early season. “Cammy had a couple of young, talented guys living locally that weren’t getting minutes and we needed a more settled squad with more talent and depth. The guys that came in have been great. They are very professional in the way they behave, train and play and the timing of the agreement coincided with us getting Miles Nilsen and David Meherg back regularly which was like two new signings, so it’s transformed us somewhat. It means now we have a very good group of 20 to 25 guys and so we have competition for places and everyone has had to step it up.”
“I have been extremely impressed with the EPLWA both on and off the field and have always had positive experiences when dealing with members of individual clubs as well as league officials,” MacDonald says. “All of the EPLWA clubs were more than happy to play us (home or away) and provided us appropriate level games during preseason that will have no doubt helped with our start to the season.”
The Pumas are a bit of a “special situation” in the PDL in that they are professional, paying their players while the other teams in the Northwest Division do not. The Kitsap club is always looking for talent to bring to Bremerton, which does not have a 2-year or 4-year college with a men’s program. MacDonald has his eyes wide open when the Pumas play friendlies against EPLWA sides. “Through these friendly games, communication with coaches and simply going out and watching league fixtures we’ve been fortunate enough to pick up Buba Jammeh (Seattle Stars FC) and Borce Atanasov (Vancouver Victory FC.)”
The Pumas also have EPLWA alums Mike Ramos and Nick Hamer (Spokane Shadow) on their current roster. They have been starting lately. “While it’s tough for teams and coaches to lose their most talented players it’s a natural progression that happens at every level,” muses Cammy. “We go through it with USL Pro clubs, who then go through it themselves with MLS. Even the MLS are going through it with the EPL and Bundesliga. Ultimately, if a move allows a player to play in a more competitive environment and gives them a higher chance of moving on again then it’s the right thing to do. And that’s part of the challenge of coaching; you lose one top player, can you then find another and help them the same way.” Recently the Pumas loaned Ramos and Hamer to Sounders 2 of the USL PRO when they needed a roster boost. Both players did well.
“It’s been a win-win for both clubs and all the players and we will hopefully continue to work together,” SKinner says. “I hope that we can bring some guys through our squad that perhaps at some point go the other way too. Thats what the whole thing is about really, two great programs working toward similar goals and assisting each other to reach them. I will be out at Gordon Field this Wednesday to cheer Cammy and the lads on in what hopefully will be a league winning game. We are all on the same side, which after five years working on this side of the peninsula feels very very good.”