Steelheads and Clear Eyes

There is a new club less than an hour north of Seattle, and they are calling themselves “The Steelheads” after a Twitter vote. Snohomish County FC will be joining the Western Washington Premier League (WWPL) in 2019, the club’s third year of existence. They have spent the last two seasons playing non-league friendlies, picking up an all-time record of 7-2-7 against other clubs, communities colleges, and U18 and U19 teams.

The Beginning

The club was formed in 2017 for high school players in the area. Steelheads coach Daghan “Dagi” Kesim supports this sentiment, saying, “There are a lot of talented players and soccer fans in Snohomish County. They needed the next level of play. I personally think it was a great idea.” The club’s General Manager, David Falk, had similar reasons, but pointed to the local indoor soccer team, the Snohomish Skyhawks, who have been playing for more than ten years, stating, “Every spring and summer the highest level of Snohomish-area players look outside of the county to see where they can compete on other regional clubs. We wanted to give them the option to stay at home.”

IMG_8952.JPG

After they got the idea, they tried to get things rolling, but that did not mean going all in from the start. Falk is a big believer in working within your means, saying, “You can go from idea to club pretty quickly – but that doesn't mean it will stick.” This is why they spent the past two seasons taking things slow and building up to their end goal. Falk was brought on to the team, more recently, but Coach Kesim has been with the team since the beginning. Kesim said, “It has been an idea for years, just didn't have the right people to help out. I like working with people who follow through on their promises... Since David arrived to help, it became an organized entity that I am proud to be a part of.”

If you’ve ever been around a team, you know that a club doesn’t just spring up overnight. Falk described it perfectly, saying, “You need players, coaches, and people to do some organizing work during the week. There is more paperwork than some soccer people like, but it is part of the process. Things like getting fields, creating and running websites, insurance, business licenses. When you get those accomplished, being a true club feels more real.” Snohomish County FC, or SnoCo FC for short, has all of this and is becoming one of the best teams in the region on the social media side of things. It has all the makings of a great club, except for one: a home field. Snohomish County is a huge space with a total area of 2,196 square miles, so there are plenty of places to choose to play. The club has held its friendlies at multiple locations. Community liaison, Ruth Nicholson, said, “We are currently seeking a home stadium after sampling a variety of options this past summer. A group of our board, Founders Club, and players are in the process of finalizing that location now,” when asked about the status of the club’s home venue.

So, they have the business side down, they’re working on getting a home field, but what about the most important part of a soccer team, the players themselves? The team was initially built from both recruiting and open tryouts. Coach Kesim believes that recruiting will get a little easier now that the team has joined an actual league. 2018 saw forty players try out, which according to Falk, “Was a boost for our roster but also a bump for our finances via tryout fees.” The club also had a few individuals get solo tryouts throughout the season and has built a strong relationship with both Edmonds and Everett Community Colleges. Many of the players currently on the team will play with their college team or with the Skyhawks in the fall.

The team decided to join the WWPL because, as Falk put it, “It seems like the next natural step for us. We are fortunate the WWPL was formed this year and that we have been accepted for 2019. We have already played a few of the teams,” with Nicholson adding, “Realistically, we had two and a half options for league play. The WWPL offers the opportunity to help build a diverse league in Western Washington from the ground up.” The original plan was to join in the league’s inaugural 2018 season, but it reorganized after the 2017 season. Between bringing in David Falk as the new GM and bringing in other staff members, the deadline was missed, so the team scheduled friendlies and kept on moving forward.

The Future

Like any growing organization or company, the Steelheads have goals, two of which stick out. The biggest goal to Ruth Nicholson is “to build a sense of community around soccer in Snohomish County that provides an opportunity for players beyond the high school and (community) college level,” while Falk sees the main goal being on the business side of things. Falk says that they “Need business partners to help us defer costs so our Founders and players can concentrate on supporting the club and our players on match days.”

One thing is clear, though. Like any other small community club, the Steelheads need the support of their community. No team, lower league or major league, can survive without its community’s backing and support. All kinds of support are needed. Some of the ways people can support, according to Nicholson, are through “Fan support. Monetary support (game tickets, merchandise, concessions). Sponsorships to build a sense of community to support/build partnerships with local businesses while helping fund club operations. Visibility to recruit and support local soccer players.”

The monetary and fan support can come from joining the club’s Founders Club, a group of fifty supporters of the club. The Founders Club currently has fifteen members, so you can still join. It costs $100 up front, but with your membership, you get representation on the Steelhead’s Board, an inaugural scarf, and a lifetime pass to SnoCo FC games. You can find out more information on the Steelhead's website.

The team needs the community’s support. That has never been more evident than now, as just recently, the nationally recognizable Kitsap Pumas shut their doors less than a hundred miles away. Falk hopes to lead this team to much better things, saying, “I am all too familiar with the list of clubs that have played and folded in Washington. It goes far beyond the Pumas. I like to say that the Steelheads are a “slow boil” kind of club. We have not over-promised or over-extended ourselves. We are what we are, and we are doing things with sensible finances in mind – and trying to have enough people around that we can all share in building the club.”

Lower level teams in the Pacific Northwest have historically struggled, especially compared to how well the Portland Timbers and the Seattle Sounders of MLS do and how strong their fan bases are. However, SnoCo is already off to a good start with an average of around a hundred supporters at each game. Ruth Nicholson pointed out that the club has “players from at least 17 different high schools in Snohomish County, so we have a grounding in our communities here. We are truly home-grown in a way that MLS teams are not.” David Falk says, “Survival is sexy,” and if the Steelheads can continue to operate within their means and not get too flashy, then they will be fine. When comparing themselves to the MLS team just down the road, Falk said, “The Sounders bring soccer to the nightly news. They are “soccertainment” for people in the big city. The Steelheads are something else – an organized community club for players, families and local supporters.”

The club isn’t just asking for support, though. It believes it can bring great things to the area and have a positive impact on its community. Coach Kesim and Ruth Nicholson agree that this team should be “an example of what our youth players in Snohomish County can aspire to,” and that its “players are great examples to the younger players.” On top of being a positive influence, the organization can provide “a low-cost community-oriented sporting event to attend with the whole family,” according to David Falk.

Overall, it is a club that has shown in the past couple of years that it can operate successfully on its own. Joining the WWPL should amplify this and help this team expand, but that cannot happen without the local support of the soccer fans in the Snohomish County area. The Steelheads are doing everything right off the field, are a classy organization, and look to be a quality piece of entertainment for everyone in the community. Keeping the good things going will be hugely important to the team and its front office, and I completely believe that it can keep these good things going.

- Aarik Long

Lola Vaughn