FCM Portland put the Northwest Conference Division on the national stage in 2018. After knocking off division winner Spokane Shadow in the West Region quarterfinals, Portland eventually reached the national semifinals before bowing out to FC Motown, 2-1.
The name of the game for the division is stability. Four clubs (FCM Portland, OSA FC, PDX FC and Spokane Shadow) are now in at least their third season of NPSL play. Kitsap Pumas, which won the division in 2017 and reached the regional semifinals in the process, has ceased operations, meaning All Northwest Conference Division XI performers Jack Sluys (defender), Alvaro Rubio (midfielder) and Uriel Herrera (forward) are possibly available to the other clubs in the division. Crossfire Redmond steps in as an expansion club.
Spokane Shadow is looking for more of the same after finishing as just one of five undefeated NPSL clubs in regular season play in 2018. Spokane posted seven wins, including five clean sheets, and five draws while allowing just 12 goals during the regular season. The club will look to advance further in the playoffs after getting upset by FCM Portland, 2-1, in the first round.
Defenseman Spencer Wolfe, Williams and Ramos earned All West Region Conference Top XI, while goalkeeper Bryan Hernandez was named All Northwest Conference Division.
Mike Pellicio, the Northwest Conference Division’s Coach of the Year, returns.
“We have learned a lot of lessons from last season into this one,” Pellicio said. “Through the completion of last season, with our conference member FC Mulhouse Portland making a run to the national semifinals, we know that the best teams from our conference are competitive enough to compete favorably for a national title.”
Spokane will continue to spread the wealth offensively as 10 players scored 34 total goals. Ramos had six goals while Karl Muelheims and Jake Levine had five and Williams had four. Levine was selected as the NPSL’s 13th National Player of the Week after recording a hat trick in a 5-0 win over Kitsap Pumas on June 9th.
The defense, led by Wolfe, is focused on allowing even less. The club surrendered more than one goal in a game just four times last season. Other players to watch include Nick Hamer, and Jesse Retan, the club’s U23 coach and a member of Spokane Shadow’s First Team since 2005.
“Our goals are to repeat as NW Conference champions, to secure only home games all the way until the national final and to send our players who seek professional opportunities on to the higher levels of the game,” Pellicio said.
FCM Portland had a 2018 postseason to remember, advancing all the way to the NPSL semifinals. Along the way, the club upset Spokane, blanked El Farolito, knocked out Orange County FC in a 6-4 barnburner and fell just short against FC Motown, 2-1.
Coach Sergio Medel is back to lead the club to the top of the Northwest table and two steps further in the playoffs.
Freddy Braun, formerly with the Portland Timbers, is back after earning All-Conference honors last year. He led the team with nine goals, including three in the playoffs. Braun scored the winner in the 40th minute of the playoff win over Spokane and added two goals in the win over Orange County FC.
He is joined in the attack by Christian Thyron and Reed McKenna, who each scored four goals last year, including two each in the playoffs. Thyron and McKenna scored late to clinch the win over Orange County FC in the West Region final. Luis Galeano and youngsters Jay Garmondeh and Nick Evans are again in the mix.
Midfielder Ryan Middleton is the team’s captain. He provides leadership and experience from his days in both Bournemouth and Southampton’s academies. He and defender Alex White joined Braun on the All-Conference team. White came up and scored four goals.
Ryan Callahan is a tenacious workhorse with great vision. Defenders Anthony Hobbs, Chris Lins, Jordan Selland and Cameron LaFleur and goalkeeper Scott Dalrymple all return.
“We started a bit slow and lost a few points, but once they grasped the concepts toward the middle of the season on, the team became stronger and more solid in every way,” Medel said. “We want to continue to grow and experience beautiful moments with our squad.”
OSA FC, led by owner Giuseppe Pezzano, is an American club with an Italian influence. Based out of Seattle, the team started 2018 strong, defeating playoff-bound FCM Portland in the season opener and drawing with eventual conference division champion Spokane before losing seven of its final 10 games.
OSA stands for Olympic Soccer Academy and Pezzano’s philosophy is to give new and returning local youth, academy and college players an opportunity to play at the NPSL level.
“We are convinced that this model is the right one, and really the only one that will allow soccer players to develop naturally within their club,” Pezzano said. “Players have a place to go after their youth development is finished and that natural place is to have a first team to play for.”
Coaches and staff for 2019’s squad will be provided by OSA FC’s Serie A partner, ACF Fiorentina. OSA FC is starting a new project which will include local coaches working and consulting with professional coaches from their Florence-based Italian partners.
Pezzano expects a high percentage of last year’s team to return, many coming from local first division colleges, as well as a handful of international players. That includes Corbin Anderson, who returns after finishing his career at the University of Washington by being named a First-Team All-Pac-12 midfielder with three goals and four assists.
“He has showed a lot of improvement since starting with us,” Pezzano said. “He went from playing no games at Washington to a full-time starter and team captain. After his first season with us, he gained confidence and really showed everyone what he was made of.”
Another local product, Seattle Pacific University’s Gabe Kellum, led last year’s team with six goals, followed by Orlando Neto and Ryley Johnson with four.
The club will need to be stingier defensively after allowing 33 goals last season.
After a successful 5-4-1 debut campaign in 2017, PDX FC slipped t0 2-8-2 last season, finishing bottom of the table. Coach Luke Babson, in his third year, is building his staff and roster in hopes of moving the club back up the standings in 2019.
Ryo Asai, an attacking midfielder who came over from FCM Portland, led the club with six goals, including two winners, to go with two assists. After earning All-Northwest Conference Division XI honors last season, Asai has a chance for greater accolades this year, according to Babson.
“He can be a top player in our conference; he has the ability to unbalance teams off the dribble and also possesses excellent vision,” Babson said. “He can score with both feet and is deadly on set pieces.”
The club is hosting a tryout in late March to solidify its roster. PDX FC currently has several players from the past two seasons on trial with professional teams. Babson is hopeful that as many as possible can sign pro contracts, but it will also leave the club with several holes to fill.
“We are hard at work identifying the best players possible for our 2019 roster,” Babson said.
Babson is excited to added Sonimi Halliday to his coaching staff. Halliday was a top center back for Babson in PDX FC’s first two seasons. Halliday’s decision to transition to coaching adds vital experience and depth to the team’s management.
In late December 2018, Crossfire Premier, out of Redmond, Washington, was announced as a 2019 NPSL expansion club, essentially replacing Kitsap Pumas in the Northwest Conference Division. The NPSL club will be known as Crossfire Redmond. Club Director Bernie James, a Coventry, England native, is a 24-year veteran of the North American Soccer League, Major Indoor Soccer League, American Professional Soccer league and A-League. He played with such clubs as the Edmonton Drillers, Cleveland Crunch and Force and Tacoma Stars, and concluded his career after six seasons with the old Seattle Sounders of the USL First Division.
Crossfire Premier, founded in 2000, is a member of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and the Elite Clubs National League. Director of Player Development Troy Letherman described the club as follows:
“Our club is structured as a 501(c)3 non-profit youth club, with teams from our junior program at Under-7 through our U-19 US Soccer Development Academy teams (boys and girls),” Letherman said. “The NPSL franchise is simply an extension of that, owned by Crossfire Foundation, and allows us to provide another level of competition and development for our players in Zone 3.
Although the majority of the squad will be comprised of current and former Crossfire Academy players (many of whom are currently playing in college), the club will host tryouts in April. Letherman said Crossfire won’t have final answers on some of its top players until later this spring, as they have trials in Europe and with USL franchises between now and then.
However, some more recent academy graduates are expected to play, including Declan McGlynn, the 2018 Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year with Seattle University and a member of the US U-20 national team. Other players expected to play include Ethan Bartlow (University of Washington, 2018 All Pac-12 Honorable Mention as a freshman) and Christian Soto-Rincon (Two-time US Soccer Development Academy West Region Best XI selection).
Photos courtesy of club social media and Protagonist Soccer. Custom art designed by Laura Mills. Previews written by Brian Burden with input from David Baker, Joshua Duder and Dan Vaughn.