Capital FC Atletica

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The Northwest Premier League was founded in 2016 and has largely been dominated by teams in Washington; however, since their addition in 2018’s season, Capital FC Atletica have risen up the table and increased the standard of play in the league. CFC Atletica are a member of the Timbers’ Alliance, and the Salem, Oregon-based women’s soccer team represents a competitive end of a development funnel. The organization provides a place to grow and play soccer to girls from all over the capital of Oregon, but it also provides a home for student athletes and women soccer players of all ages, to extend their footballing career. When we had a few questions about how their organization is run and what sets them apart, we were directed to Capital FC Women’s Soccer Director of Operations Whitney Pitalo—she took the time to answer our questions and provided some great photos from the club.

How long has Capital Fútbol Club been providing soccer to the city and what is it's working relationship with the Timbers organization? Some clubs, like Seattle Sounders Women, go the obvious route when it comes to naming the team and building the aesthetic; when was Atletica formed and what was the motivation behind naming the team?

CFC has been providing the competitive soccer experience for youth in our city since 1993. We became a Timber's Alliance club in 2013. Then our club acquired the U23 Timbers in 2017 - the same year I started the women's WPSL team (that then moved to the NWPL). The club had been wanting a professional men's soccer team back in Salem since the folding of the Cascade Surge. That team was special for the soccer community here in Salem. I remember their games vividly as a child. When I returned to Salem after graduating from USC I started my master's program at Willamette where I decided to start a competitive women's team. I started the team with help from my MBA team, community members and club directors. Atletica came from a re-branding in 2018 where we sought to have a stronger brand. This was heavily influenced by long-time women's sports advocate, Kate Sorem, who helps run the team today. We had a few names we were choosing from to accurately represent women's soccer in our community. We decided Atletica was the best fit because of diversity of our team and our community.

CFC Atletica celebrates its diversity, showcasing players from around the world.

CFC Atletica celebrates its diversity, showcasing players from around the world.

Why NWPL? With national models like UWS and WPSL making higher profile soccer available, why join a regional league instead? Conversely, how does the standard of play in the Northwest Premier League compare to a metro league, like Portland's NUWS?

The team started in the WPSL, but we ended up transferring leagues in year 2, since it didn't prove to be the right fit for the team. I believe the NWPL is a great league for elite women's team's that are looking to stay local and for teams that are new. They provide excellent social media support, all games are held in the Northwest and league fees are lower. This helps a new team get their feet under them, gain visibility in their communities and perform better in their first years. The NWPL is the most competitive regional league in the Northwest and is more accessible than the travel demands on teams in the WPSL (that go to Canada and California) and is still excellent competition for players looking to play in college or athletes looking to keep playing competitively after graduation.

What's the age range of the players in the side and where do they come from? I know the Timbers U23s side of the house does an amazing job drawing collegiate players from all over the country, is that model in place for Atletica?

We have players from the ages of 17 to 28 currently. We have the top high school players in the area, collegiate players from Oregon, retired professional players, national team members from Ghana, Namibia and Mexico, and international players that we recruit. We have a diverse player pool and that's what makes the experience so fun. We have connections overseas in Africa and Korea, in the states and in our city. We even have players who are local mother's coming back to play. It's a wonderful environment for all players of all ages to learn from each other, stay healthy and make connections that will help their life & soccer careers.

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We were all just treated to a fantastic World Cup, with amazing match ups and exciting player performances, but was the interest in women's soccer already on the rise prior to that? What influence has the NWSL, with teams like the Thorns and Reign, had on players looking to continue playing after high school? How about the supporter’s aspect, has an increased interest in women's soccer shown itself in the stands?

This year with an amazing World Cup we had a lot of extra attention to draw on, but I believe women's soccer was already on the rise. In our third year, we had many more supporters and volunteers. The World Cup felt like a celebration of where women’s soccer has come and where it's going. We held watch parties for the US games at a local brewery - Salem Ale Works (SAW) - and attendance was amazing (75+ during a work day)! I think that's when I started to realize that it's not just players who loves the game, but the community wants to be a part of it. It was a special year and I only see growth from here. We love attending Portland Thorns and NWSL games as a team and I think the World Cup has put the league on the map.

You're in the NWPL Final! What's next? What actions represent growth for the organization?

The next goal for the team is to win the NWPL championship. With victory comes visibility and I think that's what the team and club need to establish women's soccer as a powerhouse in our city. For us this year and next, growth means being more involved in our community (volunteering, school visits, events) and I think we've done a great job of it this year. Next year's plan is to continue to be involved in our community and grow our visibility. When we give back to our community they come back in full support; this is something we want to foster. The more support and recognition we receive the more sustainable this team and league will be.

CFC Atletica take on NWPL competition on their way to the 2019 league championship match (Photo: Jeremy McDonald)

CFC Atletica take on NWPL competition on their way to the 2019 league championship match (Photo: Jeremy McDonald)