Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Looking back at 2012: The first year of INW Soccer News

INWsoccernews.com went online in late March, literally posting its first item on the final day of the month. Since then the site has had quite an enjoyable debut year covering soccer at all levels for the northwest region east of the Cascades. Here is a look back at the news of the year, beginning with a little background on the site’s launch.


After returning to my hometown of Spokane in the late summer of 2011 and attempting to reacquaint myself to the regional soccer scene after a decade working on the national stage, I decided to launch Inland Northwest Soccer News – a move that is, in part, a flashback to my past with the Spokane Shadow PDL team where I created a media update called the NW Soccer Weekend Wrap-Up to represent news around the division for national media as well as each team’s local press. The northwest update came at a time, believe it or not, just before the boom of the internet and was a faxed version – yes, that archaic technology - that is similar in concept to the site you see today, just on a smaller subject.

At first I thought about keeping the focus of the site on a smaller scale, but coming from the ranks of the often overlooked levels of the sport I felt that someone should give the regions outside of the Puget Sound (Seattle), Portland and Spokane attention it so rightly deserves. It is a difficult task, especially considering how many collegiate programs there are, for a site that for right now is a one-man show, but it is a service that quite frankly is long overdue. After all, how can you expect states and areas long overlooked to grow and evolve if they are continually ignored?

Though I unfortunately did not physically venture far beyond the greater Spokane area this past year, I am very blessed that the sport in this region has created an opportunity to see such a diverse sample of the region’s sport with schools from Idaho, Montana and Eastern Oregon coming to the region at various levels of the collegiate game, including all four major Division I programs as well as NAIA teams.


Looking back, it was ironic that the first real news coverage of the site was collegiate spring soccer, a period that allows the programs to get a little prep work in before incoming the incoming freshman class.

The Gonzaga women were the central figures as they played host to an eventful spring schedule that opened with a friendly against nearby Eastern Washington and continued with a game against Seattle U and a seven-a-side event that featured teams from throughout the region., including eventual tournament winner Montana.


Spring gave way to the summer and the Spokane Shine of the Women’s Premier Soccer League in June. After a bit of a slow start, the third-year side proved to be a difficult team to beat at home, posting a 3-1-1 record at Joe Albi Stadium, and the second time out against each team (5-0-0). Part of the team’s new success was due to its growth as it had gone from a local team in year one, national in year two and now international with players such as Scottish youth international Lisa Robertson, who would later sign with Scottish powerhouse Glasgow City over the winter.

The season came down to the final week of the campaign with the Shine needing a victory and help from the Seattle derby between Emerald City and Issaquah to claim the championship. A pair of 1-1 draws on the west side allowed the Shine to win the division by one point, but injuries and player conflicts along with budget concerns led to the team management opting not to participate in the league postseason, allowing second-place Issaquah to make the trip to California for the conference tournament. It should be noted this was a regular occurrence around the WPSL playoffs.


Elsewhere during the summer, Gonzaga products Zach Scott and Brian Ching, the former Spokane Shadow PDL star, were helping make headlines in Major League Soccer.

Ching’s adventure began in the offseason when he was left unprotected in the expansion draft, allowing the Hawaiian to be selected although he had publicly stated it was likely his final year and only wanted to play in Houston to see the new stadium debut. Things would be worked out and Ching would return to the Lone Star State for the opening of the new stadium, which honored both Ching and fellow Shadow alum Craig Waibel, who had retired the previous year, as pillars of the team.

On a side note, by summer’s end Waibel would return to his alma mater, the University of Washington, as an assistant coach.

The season was a difficult affair for the 2011 MLS Cup finalist Dynamo with Houston seeing an early exit from the US Open Cup, but rebounding to reach the postseason and go on to advance to the championship for a rematch with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Another loss left questions abound on whether Ching would retire, but a month later the news was out that the former US international was returning for another season despite his new role as a bench player.

Closer to home, Scott and his Sounders were having another quality campaign, earning him recognition from the fans. They reached the US Open Cup championship game yet again but the Sounders were unable to win the title a record fourth consecutive time, falling in Kansas City via penalties. Despite the disappointment, the club went on to finish third in the conference and reach the playoffs.


Another local product of the region, Hope Solo (Richland, WA) also had an outstanding year on the field despite also featuring headlines throughout the year for events off of it.

Things started off well with the standout keeper joining the Seattle Sounders Women to play briefly in the W-League prior to the Summer Games in London.

Headlines, however, took a turn to the controversial before getting to London.  In July she accepted a warning from the US Anti-Doping Agency for a testing positive for a banned substance following use of a prescribed medication for non-performance related concerns.

Controversy continued as prior to the Olympics the University of Washington grad released her book, creating a stir yet again among the media with accusations of abuse by her former national team coach and by her Dancing With the Stars partner.

The Olympics, despite a spat over comments by broadcaster and former US teammate Brandi Chastain, proved to wash all the negative moments out of the media mindset as the US survived a dramatic match with Canada and went on to capture the gold medal.

With news of a new pro league on the horizon and a gold medal around her neck, it should have been quite the honeymoon, literally and figuratively, for Solo, but a reported domestic disturbance by police in Seattle with her fiancĂ© – former NFL player Jerramy Stevens – put the goalkeeper in the headlines on the eve of her wedding with Stevens being arrested and later released following no charges being filed.


The summer also featured some local success on the regional and national stage as well for area youth clubs. Teams from the area participated in the Regional Tournament in Seattle, six reaching finals, with a handful moving onto US Club Soccer’s National Cup XI championship event.

In the end, the Spokane Shadow finished as one of the nation’s best, claiming the runners-up trophy in the U15G Premier bracket under coach Brandon Schreiner.


As summer transitioned into fall, the college soccer season received a big boost in the form of viewership capability with the launch of the PAC-12 Networks and their inclusion of soccer in the schedule. In addition to the region’s lone PAC-12 entry, the Washington State women, viewers in the area were able to catch the Gonzaga men playing Washington on the road along with all the other action around the conference.


Also making a debut was the Red Lion Challenge, an event hosted in Spokane by the Red Lion hotel chain, a sponsor of both the Cascade Collegiate Conference and the Frontier Conference of the NAIA.

The event kicked off with the men’s foursome featuring the Montana duo of Great Falls and Rocky Mountain dominating in three days of action against the CCC duo of Northwest Christian and Warner Pacific.

A couple weeks later the UGF and Carroll were nearly as successful against Corban and Eastern Oregon in the women’s event. In all, the Frontier Conference won seven of the eight matches with Corban nabbing the lone victory on the final day against UGF.


The college campaign was quite busy with a number of teams reaching great heights. The Whitworth men kicked off the season with a victory over seventh-ranked Wheaton and never looked back as they dominated the conference with a stifling defense.

On the women’s side, Montana proved to be a hotbed as the Grizzlies finished co-champions of the Big Sky with eventual conference tournament winner Idaho State. Carroll, Rocky Mountain and MSU-Billings also had outstanding seasons with the MSUB Yellowjackets eventually reaching the conference final with Western Washington in the GNAC.

Despite a tough season, the Gonzaga women made a little history by registering their first-ever point against powerhouse Portland, hopefully marking a turning point in the program’s progression.


Another team making some history was the CC Spokane women. Along with the men’s side, they embarked on the 2012 campaign on a new field at the renovated Spokane Falls soccer facility and went on to win the division championship, ending the nine-year reign of Walla Walla.

The team advanced in the postseason to the conference final four in Tukwila, where I was fortunate enough to tag along as an ‘embedded reporter’ for their semifinal victory and epic championship game defeat in penalties to Peninsula, who swept the men’s and women’s titles.


One of the other big stories of the year in the college game was the ever-changing landscape as the modern era of collegiate athletics continues to be altered as schools make conference decisions based on football and basketball ambitions. The University of Idaho was linked with a possible return to the Big Sky Conference as the football team went independent and later confirmed the move in October. Though they have one more year in the WAC, the conference will look different with Denver, champions in soccer, exiting.

Meanwhile, things were not as smooth for Boise State, which was in the midst of only its second season in the Mountain West Conference. The Broncos were looking to move to the Big East as announced in August, but reversed course in December with an announcement that they were going to stay in the MWC after all.


In October I expanded the site’s focus from the INW concentration to a national view by merging the coverage from my other page The Soccer Barn, which provided a regular look at lower division soccer in North America. Moving forward this coverage will likely expand even further as the nation’s other site focused on the minor leagues, Inside Minnesota Soccer, is going on hiatus.

Coming from a background steeped in the lower divisions of the sport, one of my driving ambitions is to continually shine a light on the game on that level and cover the often overlooked leagues that give players additional opportunities to develop and continue their careers while entertaining fans in the many markets around the US and Canada that are not home to or near MLS teams.


Throughout the year I took some time between covering matches and news itself to zoom in and shine a light on individual players and stories. As I look back I wish I had done a few more, but year one was a good starting point, beginning with the delightful Scottish youth international Lisa Robertson of the Spokane Shine and moving onto the youth and college game. If you have not had a chance to read them, here are the links to the past year’s feature stories.

Best of 2012 – Inland Northwest Soccer News

The following are my picks as the best of the year for players from or playing with teams in the region at all levels of the game.

Men’s Team of the Year: Whitworth Pirates – The team posted an outstanding campaign with a stellar defensive performance en route to winning the Division III Northwest Conference.
Honorable Mentions: Walla Walla CC & Rocky Mountain College

Women’s Team of the Year: CC Spokane - Ended the nine-year reign of Walla Walla as division champions and fell in penalties in the league championship.
HM: Idaho State & U15G Spokane Shadow national runners-up

Men’s Offensive Player of the Year: Oliver Gore (Rocky Mountain) – Led the school to the conference championship and the NAIA national tournament.
HM: Robby Ubben (Whitworth) & Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo)

Men’s Defensive Player of the Year: Balin Larson (Whitworth) - Led the defense for the Pirates in their conference championship campaign.
HM: Zach Scott (Seattle Sounders) & Travis Hill (CC Spokane)

Women’s Offensive Player of the Year: Kirsty Montignani (Rocky Mountain) – The midfielder was a dominant offensive force in leading the school to the conference championship.
HM: Sophia Huerta (Santa Clara) & Lisa Robertson (Spokane Shine)

Women’s Defensive Player of the Year: Jamie Arthurs (Western Washington) – In a year in which Hope Solo dominated the headlines, another goalkeeper from Richland proved to be just as dominant between the posts as she broke school and conference records at Western Washington, leading the Vikings to the GNAC championship.
HM: Hope Solo (US National Team) & Maggie Schrader (Spokane Shine)

Fan’s Choice Men’s College Player of the Year: Thomas Chameraud (MSU-Billings)
HM: Balin Larson (Whitworth) & Travis Hill (CC Spokane) [Voting]

Fan’s Choice Women’s College Player of the Year: Tasha Luu (CC Spokane)
HM: Lauren Swanson (Puget Sound) & Erin Craig (Montana) [Voting]

Favorite Photos of 2012