The Wash is David Falk’s take on the world of soccer in The WA.
by David Falk
Right now OSA FC (Seattle) is the lone National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) club in the state of Washington. The league continues to wonder how it can make inroads it what it views as a soccer-crazy state. The 2015 Northwest Conference had two teams: OSA and the Portland Spartans. Is there a way in for the NPSL in Washington?
I spoke with someone affiliated with the NPSL, but not in a ‘position of power,’ recently in a long phone call about this topic. They initiated the call. Back east (New York) where the league is headquartered they are wondering why with so much growth and buzz for the NPSL in the Midwest they have yet to ‘break through’ out here. In recent years the league has lost teams in Hood River Oregon (SO Samba, Gorge FC), Tukwila (Inter United FC) and Seattle (Seattle Sporting.) This despite being cheaper on fees and expansion than the Premier Development League (PDL), the other national fourth division league in America.
It’s a crazy world in the fourth division, where the PDL, NPSL and USASA Premier Leagues blanket the landscape while remaining officially unofficial by US Soccer standards. The USSF has designated MLS as Division One, NASL as Division Two and USL as Division Three. These designations are under debate and likely to be changed in the near future. Whow knows where it will all settle, but the USL wants to be Division Two and the NASL wants to be Division One.
Four is our number
Meanwhile, out here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest we seem to be very good at creating “Division Four” sides, and not so good at keeping them around and supporting them. Here are the clubs that fall into the Fourth Division US status that play in the state of Washington: NPSL – OSA FC PDL – KItsap Pumas, Sounders U23, Puget Sound Gunners, Washington Crossfire. EPLWA – Bellingham United, Olympic Force, Seattle Stars FC, South Sound FC, Spokane Shadow, Vancouver Victory FC, Wenatchee FC, Yakima United FC. These clubs operate with varying degrees of success in terms of drawing crowds and bonding with local soccer communities. Most all draw audiences below national averages for their leagues.
Who have we lost over the years? Along with the NPSL sides listed in the second paragraph, we have seen these teams come and go: Seattle / Everett / Puget Sound Bigfoot, Seattle Wolves FC (now Crossfire), Spokane Shadow, Spokane Spiders, Yakima Reds (now Gunners), Tacoma Tide FC (now Sounders U23) in the PDL, WestSound FC (now Olympic Force) in the EPLWA, TriCity Power, Chelan Warriors, Shelton Timberland FC in the ANSL, and Columbia River FC in the NSSL.
A 2011 Conference Call
The NPSL tried to come in to Washington back in 2011 with a conference call to prospective clubs. It was just after the NSSL (National Star Soccer League) had imploded, and just as the ANSL (American National Soccer League) was springing up in its place. The local owners were wary of outsiders by this point, and it ended with no NPSL for Chelan, Shelton, Yakima and Seattle.
Seattle Sporting at Gorge FC in 2014. Both NPSL clubs have since folded. (Sporting photo)
That was then, this is now
So what did I advise the 2015 caller to do? My suggestion was to build around Washington, not in it. Try to make inroads in Oregon and Idaho. Oregon has just one Fourth Division club. Idaho has none. Montana has none. Washington has thirteen. Now I can see how some bright readers might be clearing their throats and suggesting that I am biased because of my involvement with the Evergreen Premier League. Certainly my views are informed and tainted that direction. Still, is there an EPLWA club that would benefit from a move to the NPSL? What would those benefits be to offset higher fees, expansion costs and perhaps more travel?
Or, the NPSL could hang around and wait for the PDL to collapse in our region and then hope to sway a club or two over to their side. What’s that you say, a PDL “collapse?” It’s not out of the question, and some even suggest to me that it is “inevitable” with the new focus on USL (third division). How fragile is the PDL in the Northwest? The Victoria Highlanders left last year, as did the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency. The Portland Timbers U23 apparently re-upped at the last minute. The Kitsap Pumas want to go USL eventually. The Puget Sound Gunners are a year-to-year deal. So are Washington Crossfire. The Sounders U23 are fighting to maintain their status as a destination for top college talent, but they certainly are in the shadow of the new USL “S2” in terms of developmental strategies with the MLS Sounders.
Street Cred in Michigan
Street credibilty in Detroit, where the NPSL Detroit City FC draw sell-out crowds and half of the venue is filled with chanting supporters, has not drifted out west and inspired any semi-rich soccer lovers to build clubs / join the NPSL. The league recently pulled two sides out of an EPLWA-like league called the Great Lakes Premier League (GLPL), a nice score for them. Grand Rapids FC drew over 5,000 per match in 2015 in what was basically Division Five. Ann Arbor FC drew 3,000 per match. Michigan loves the NPSL.
The NPSL has one club in the state of Washington, a state with a population of 6.7 million that has twelve other Division Four sides. The NPSL’s way in to Washington might just be more of a waiting game. Seeing how the PDL shakes out over the next year or two, and if any EPLWA clubs want to spend the cash to compete for a national league title. It could be cannibalism or bust. It would be great if the NPSL could ADD to our state scene. It might have eventually happened if OSA FC had taken its “move” to Tacoma seriously (I lowered the boom on that mess here.) We do have towns without teams: Olympia, Port Angeles, TriCities, Walla Walla, Bellevue, Everett, Renton, Federal Way, others. Do we have any Fourth Division soccer owners in these cities?