Yakima United FC
The Northwest Premier League, a Pacific Northwest regional league for elite amateur women, was founded in 2015-16 and began their first season in the Spring of 2016. Yakima United was there from the get go, and have never finished outside of the playoffs. Joshua Vega, the club’s general manager, who spent two years as a player for the men’s squad, has also been the head coach of the Reds’ women’s side since its beginnings. We reached out to find out a little more about the growth of the league and the role of the organization as one of the league’s pillars.
Yakima United was a founding member of the NW Premier League - can you tell us if there was a women's team before then? When and why was the squad founded?
To my knowledge there’s never been a premier women’s club in Yakima. For us, it was an easy decision, as soon as the opportunity was available, we jumped in. So, the NWPL and Yakima United’s Women’s Program are linked in terms of founding. We want to help grow the game in any way we can and why should that just be the men’s game? We’ve been extremely pleased with the growth and shape this team has taken. It started with some of the older players in the valley who we wouldn’t be where we are now without, they believed in our concept. Since then we’ve taken on a more “summer program” role for college players as well as some older players finishing their youth club season.
NWPL is likely to expand by at least one club next year - what's it been like to see the league grow and has the level of soccer increased as well?
I think it’s fantastic, when a new league starts like this there’s always the possibility of it being a one and done or a few seasons, but it seems to keep growing and getting stronger each year. That’s all down the leadership that’s in place and a bunch of like-minded people involved for the right reasons. It’s a player first league, and that’s always going to be the correct approach. As far as the level growing? The league has been strong since day 1. I’m not sure the overall talent level has grown necessarily, but what’s been interesting is to see the evolution of all the clubs involved, you have a team like the stars that, at the beginning, was probably one of the weaker teams, or middle of the pack, now being literally unbeatable. Additionally, seeing new clubs like Capital come in and be strong right away is great for the league.ems to keep growing and getting stronger each year. That’s all down the leadership that’s in place and a bunch of like-minded people involved for the right reasons. It’s a player first league, and that’s always going to be the correct approach. As far as the level growing? The league has been strong since day 1. I’m not sure the overall talent level has grown necessarily, but what’s been interesting is to see the evolution of all the clubs involved, you have a team like the stars that, at the beginning, was probably one of the weaker teams, or middle of the pack, now being literally unbeatable. Additionally, seeing new clubs like Capital come in and be strong right away is great for the league.
Is Yakima United connected to a youth organization in your community? If so, how many young players transition from the academy to the women's top side (and men's side for that matter)?
While we aren’t directly linked with a youth club in the area, both Dennis and Myself coach for the Central Washington Sounders. So, we do have a strong relationship with that club and receive a lot of support from that. Our women’s team at times is about 70% alumni or current players from the youth club, our men’s program is a bit more diverse. We want to remain an open option to any player interested in participating, but at the same time we enjoy having a relationship with an organization with a similar mindset. On the women’s side we also have a great relationship with Yakima Valley College, and have been getting some quality players from that program and that has proven to be very mutually beneficial.
In a World Cup year, did you see any noticeable increase in support for the team from outside the organization; did fans from the community start to show up? Do you see increasing community interest as a goal of the club?
In short, no. Support for grassroots soccer has always been a tricky thing. There’s ebbs and flows, there’s times where you beat your head against the ground wondering why people don’t want to come support their local teams. You have large groups of people heading 2.5 hours over the mountains weekly to support the pro game that never come out to a game. I’m not directing any vitriol toward those types of people, that’s completely their prerogative and they “owe” us nothing. What I wish people would understand is how much attendance to even one game held clubs like ours. If every person in Yakima who goes to a sounders game every season came to just one of our games it would go a great way toward helping us become more sustainable. Besides that, it’s actually really good soccer and a terrific value.
Travel can't be cheap, even if it's only throughout Washington and Oregon. What's the farthest you've had to take the squad? How many players travel on an away day? How do you budget for multiple away days; club dues, sponsorships, donations, selling soccer swag?
It is expensive, but it actually isn’t our biggest cost. We’ve been so fortunate to have players on both sides who understand the struggles and pay for most of their own travel. It’s not ideal, and we’d like to always travel together but it is what it is. Salem is the definitely the longest trip out women’s team has had. This year we made that trip twice both times I had a car full of girls and the gas, food, etc. for those trips comes out of my own pocket. That may be the other thing local soccer supporters don’t realize. How much personal injection of funds comes from our ownership and staff, and the families of players just to survive. Don’t get me wrong we do have fantastic sponsors who without we wouldn’t exist. But the costs associated with running a small club like this are far greater than those who see from the outside, and sometimes the inside, just do not understand.
Have you had any players or coaches move on from Yakima to play in a fully professional organization? Have any coaches taken the reigns elsewhere and manage their own clubs?
As YUFC, no. But in the past, with the Yakima Reds we’ve had several players move on. Jake Sagare, Aaron Heinzen, Santa Maria Rivera are a few of the home-grown players who went on to have professional careers, and there’s been more. We’ve also had some players from outside the area play here who had careers as pros like Mike Chabala, Chris Eyelander and a few others. As far as women, none yet but I believe there will be eventually, the pay scale for professional women is a huge hinderance. Could someone like Lauryn Peters or Natalie Nagle play professionally? Probably not in the US and be financially secure enough, so the only option would be going to another country and that presents a different set of obstacles whereas a male counterpart with the same relative talent would have far more options.