Thursday, August 15, 2013

It was a soccer life for coach Sean Bushey in Spokane

As the two-weekend Northwest Cup hosted by the Spokane Shadow comes to a close this weekend and Whitworth’s program embarks on the 2013 campaign, INWsoccernews presents a look back at the past and some discussion of the present with a long overdue presentation of an interview held with longtime Spokane coach Sean Bushey prior to his departure earlier this summer.

Here is the story upon his decision to join the Colorado Rush in March that includes the thoughts of several of his former players: Whitworth University, Spokane Shadow director Sean Bushey takes position with Colorado Rush 

The news in March was a surprising announcement considering Bushey’s nearly two decades of coaching in the community, the success of the Whitworth men’s program that he was coaching and the successful merger between two of the area’s leading youth clubs under the Spokane Shadow banner.

“Ultimately, it took a while to come to a final decision once the conversation began, basically it was a two-month process,” Bushey said. “Leaving Whitworth, when it has been so good to me and my family is very difficult.”

The presence of family, however, at his new home in Colorado proved to be too strong of a draw for a coach that valued warm summer evenings with his family over the myriad of activities available in Spokane.

“It certainly played a major factor in uprooting. Working alongside my oldest son and working for my brother, in what is truly one of the most unique youth soccer clubs in the world, is exciting.

“There's not much outside of soccer for me. Spokane has been an awesome place to raise a family. We found a church home that we will always cherish. Whitworth is a blessing. July in Spokane is wonderful; so much peace and renewal came from being able to sit on my back deck during the evenings of July. It really was something that allowed me to push through the rest of the year... and endure the months of shoveling fields!”

Though it was Whitworth that brought Bushey to Spokane on a long-term basis by selecting him as their men’s head coach, it was not his first experience with the city or its snow.

Move to Colorado means more snow for Bushey
“I had first come to Spokane when I went to grad school at EWU in 1991. That winter it seemingly snowed forever,” he said. “My wife is from Florida... she wasn't so happy.  When we returned to Spokane in 1996 to begin at Whitworth, we had the Ice Storm... she wasn't so happy.  But, it has turned out perfectly. God has blessed us abundantly and we are forever grateful for Him bringing us here.”

At about the same time as Bushey was moving to Spokane to coach Whitworth, a little team called the Spokane Shadow was launched in what is now called the USL Premier Development League, the nation’s top amateur flight. The team was ultimately acquired by Brett Sports & Entertainment as part of a portfolio that included Spokane's Chiefs and Indians along with several other sports ventures.  In 1997, Bushey took the reigns of the Shadow for a three-year stint that was arguably the height of its success on the field.

“Einar Thorarrinson had decided he needed to step away from the team he had so successfully coached as, I think, he wanted to get more of his Gonzaga players involved in the team, which due to NCAA rules meant he had to step down as coach,” Bushey said of the open position. “Stuart Saunders was an active player at the time, and my assistant at Whitworth.  Jeff Robbins was the GM.  I am not sure how it all came about now but I do remember meeting at Marie Calendars to discuss if I was really ready to coach players that were as old or older than I was, along with working with players from UW, GU and beyond.  Thankfully, the club took a chance on me and we were able to sustain and improve upon the successes that were so common for the Shadow teams.”

One of those successes was the development of the city’s younger players through the league’s U19 rule, which led to the inclusion of high school players with their future collegiate counterparts. One of those players was Abbas Faridnia, who has come full circle now as the Spokane Shadow Technical Director.

“Abbas was a very good player; he liked dribbling more than passing, however,” Bushey joked. “I can still picture him on the south end of Joe Albi Stadium on the left side of the field at the corner of the box, going inside-out on a Yakima guy to score.  The young kid was good.

Perhaps it was that same headstrong determination to take on a challenge that led to the merger of Faridnia’s youth club, Spokane Soccer Club, with the Shadow in April of 2012.

Faridnia coaching while managing NW Cup
“Abbas showed a lot of courage and faith in moving forward with the combining of our two clubs last season. It was no simple thing as he had worked extremely hard for a long period of time to grow and strengthen the Spokane Soccer Club; however, he realized we could make the soccer opportunities even better if we could combine ideas and energies.

“Abbas has been very open to learning and not only learning but implementing what is learned. Few really strive to learn, and fewer yet implement what they learn.  I have been nothing but impressed with Abbas.  I coached him as a teenager, but getting to know him this past year to a greater extent has provided me many rewards. It will be something that I take with me,” Bushey said.

And now after just over a year of working together, Bushey’s departure has left Faridnia as the head of Spokane’s nationally known club.

“Abbas is outstanding.  I have had the opportunity to be around many coaches and directors in my 20-plus years of coaching; Abbas is excellent and very few are so,” Bushey said of handing the reigns completely over to former player. “This past year has been a huge blessing for me in working alongside him and getting to know him better.  He really allows me to leave knowing that the club – its players and its coaches – is in good hands.”

Fifteen years later Faridnia takes over a youth club that did not exist when he played under Bushey, but was later launched as a member of the USL Super Y-League at a time when amateur and professional clubs were just beginning to dip their toes in the youth development system; a far cry from today when every Major League Soccer club now has an extensive youth pyramid beneath its senior teams.

“There is no doubt that our soccer community suffers from many ailments; though to be certain, so do many other soccer communities in our country.  Change has come fast - who would have thought there would be a national league for boys and girls 10 years ago?” said Bushey.

“The sport has changed and the youth game has changed; and in many ways: the quality, administration, expertise and a plethora of other ways.  Many of these changes are good; though for some... you'd like to go back to simpler times. Because the change has come fast, there has been a difficulty in knowing how to lead, when to follow and how or what to communicate. This leads to confusion, which leads to angst subsequently led to a fracturing.”

Ching & Waibel immortalized in Houston stadium
But as Bushey departed for Colorado, he took one last look back onto some of his coaching memories in Spokane.

Spokane Shadow PDL: “The opportunity to coach very high level players at a young coaching age. The players that came through the club during my time were quite impressive. The easy ones to point to were Brian Ching and Craig Waibel, who both had long MLS careers; but there were the likes of Josh Fouts, Jeff Rose, Zane Higgins, Billy Sleeth, Joe Marks... and the list goes on. It was quite the experience.”

Whitworth: “Every player that played for the program. I remember my first training camp and the 19 players training behind the Fieldhouse. The first conference title, the Final Four, the magic of the 2011 team and its soccer and the final Whitworth team, which provided one of the most enjoyable coaching seasons I have ever had.

Spokane Shadow Youth: Probably the most enjoyable, youth for me, it is seeing the innocence and joy of the 10-year-old and younger play this great game.  I've loved to see how our club has rallied so many people to work towards a common purpose and I'll forever be grateful to the coaches that coached in our club to work towards making our club a good place for players to play soccer.  I have been blessed by their work and commitment.