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Two soccer-loving friends with a shared vision and some empty office space.
That was the scene about six months ago at Kitsap Pumas headquarters in Bremerton when owner Robin Waite and executive director Ben Pecora announced their intentions to bring Kitsap County its first fully professional soccer franchise, the Kitsap Soccer Club.
The duo has since built the organization from the ground up, agreeing to terms with the Bremerton School District (BSD) on a deal that will allow the club to play its home games at Bremerton Memorial Stadium, hiring a coach and recruiting players, developing a youth initiative they say will stem countywide and cementing both global and local sponsorships with suppliers, among others.
Tomorrow, finally, the Pumas kick off their inaugural season in the United Soccer League’s Premier Development League (USL PDL) against the Spokane Spiders at 7 p.m. in Spokane.
“For me, I find it amazing because myself and the team have been talking about this for quite awhile,” said defender Will Sturgess, an Englishman who was introduced at a press conference April 23. “From where we were when I found out about this, to here, is such a big gap. I find it quite incredible, really.”
While tomorrow’s season-opener is the club’s first official match, the Pumas have already found success on the field under first-year coach John Wedge, who was hired in February.
The club beat the Tacoma Stars 2-1 in an exhibition match April 18 at North Kitsap High School, then closed out the preseason a week later with a win by the same score over Seattle Pacific University at South Kitsap High School.
Those victories coupled with the excitement of finally hitting the pitch — to be part of an expansion franchise in a region hungry for good soccer — have the players eager not only for the trip to Spokane, but the entire season.
“We’ve got a great chance to make history with the club,” said goalkeeper Floyd Croll. “We want to make sure this is the stepping stone to bigger things.”
But those within the organization say the club is just as — if not more — amped to make a positive impact in the community, beginning at the youth level.
James Ritchie, who doubles as assistant coach and youth development coordinator, has spearheaded the club’s youth initiative by organizing a handful of summer camps and clinics in Bremerton, Tracyton, Port Angeles and Bainbridge Island. The club plans to host additional camps in other locations and announcements are forthcoming, according to www.kitsapsoccerclub.com.
The camps, beginning in June, will be hosted by Ritchie and Pumas players.
“For us players, that’s such a big part,” said midfielder Tony Kerr, who, like Sturgess, was introduced April 23. “We can’t stress that enough, that we want to be out there with the kids during camps, clinics, trying to make a difference in the local community.”
“We’re not just here for ourselves, we’re also here for them,” Sturgess added.
Staffers also have made an effort to include the general public in the club’s day-to-day happenings, issuing a “name-the-team contest” as well as a “design-the-crest contest,” both of which allowed casual fans to submit ideas with a chance to win free season tickets.
Silverdale resident Lucita Flores-Alvarenga was awarded season tickets in November 2008 after submitting Pumas in the name-the-team contest, prevailing over about 30 entrees. Joel DuChesne of Lake Stevens also received season tickets after he designed the crest the club eventually decided to use.
“For us, community building is our foremost responsibility ... We are sitting on some incredible and unprecedented opportunities right here in Kitsap — all for the benefit of Kitsap,” Pecora said. “Soccer is a global force and it has arrived right here. The sport is a phenomenal tool on so many fronts for so many aspects of business and community development. Not only from a global perspective, but also, more importantly, from a local, grassroots perspective.”
United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League: nuts and bolts (bold)
The USL PDL is comprised of 68 clubs and four conferences — Central, Eastern, Southern and Western — that are broken into two divisions.
The Pumas, one of 10 expansion teams to enter the league this year, join the Western Conference’s Northwest Division, a 10-team division comprised of clubs from Tacoma, Spokane, Yakima and Portland, among others.
The Western Conference’s other division is the Southwest Division, which also is comprised of 10 clubs. The San Fernando Valley Quakes, who last year finished 8-2-6 for 30 points (teams earn three points for a win, one for a tie and zero for a loss), are the reigning champions.
In 2008, the Tacoma Tide and Vancouver Whitecaps Residency tied for the Western Conference Northwest Division regular-season championship with 34 points apiece, both clubs going 11-4-1.
Clubs play 16 regular-season matches — eight at home and eight on the road — and four of those matches count toward qualification for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, a competition open to all United States Soccer Federation-affiliated clubs.
How the playoffs work (bold)
The top three clubs from each of the two divisions in the Western Conference advance to the playoffs, with the second- and third-place finishers meeting in the first round and the winners advancing to face their respective regular-season champion to determine the divisional champion.
Divisional champs — the Eastern, Southern and Central Conferences all use the same playoff format — then advance to what this year is called the PDL Elite Eight Weekend, July 31-Aug. 2, where the quarterfinals and semifinals will be played.
Eastern and Central Conference divisional winners will be grouped in one half of the bracket in one location while the Southern and Western winners will comprise the other half of the bracket at another location, according to the USL Web site.
The four quarterfinal winners advance to the semis and the two semis winners advance to the PDL championship, which is Aug. 8 and will be broadcast on Fox Soccer Channel.
All playoff locations other than the divisional playoffs (July 24-26) are determined by bids.
What to know before you go (bold)
• Soccer matches are played rain or shine, barring extreme weather, so dress accordingly.
• The game clock rolls continuously in soccer, meaning it doesn’t stop during timeouts, injuries or other delays, but the referee is allowed to add extra time — “stoppage time” — at the end of each 45-minute half.
• Teams are comprised of 11 players per side, including the goalkeeper.
• Alcohol won’t be served during home matches because Memorial Stadium is on school grounds, but Pecora said the club is “building a network of stops across the peninsula for fans to join the club for pre- and post-game festivities.” Announcements are forthcoming.
• Full concessions will be available “at affordable prices,” Pecora said.
• Tickets can be purchased the day of the match at the gate or ahead of time. For season-ticket packages and single-game prices, call the club at (360) 377-6008 or visit www.kitsapsoccerclub.com. Season ticket packages begin at $45 per person.
• There is no designated parking for Pumas games.