Olympic Force keep kicking amid constant change in Kitsap soccer scene

oscforce_400BREMERTON, WA—The Olympic Force crushed the Tacoma Stars Reserves 12-3 on Saturday night at the Olympic Sports Center in Bremerton. The Western Indoor Soccer League (WISL) side is heating up just in time for the playoff race. The Force are the only adult elite amateur club in Washington with teams in each of the WISL, Evergreen Premier League (EPLWA, Men) and Northwest Premier League (NWPL, Women.) It is a year-round commitment for owner Bill Wright and his family and supplies a daily lists of tasks for General Manager Micah McMonagle.

(Cover photo by Kurt DeVoe)

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Left to right: Force mascot Stryker, Rick Wright, player Brodie Steigerwald, Bill Wright.

Kitsap is a-changing

Kitsap County soccer is in constant change. In the old days FC Kitsap was a competitive elite youth club. They became “WestSound FC,” and then a couple of years ago changed to “Kitsap Alliance FC.” The Kitsap Pumas brought pro soccer to Bremerton in the Premier Development League (PDL) and then indoor soccer in the Premier Arena Soccer League (PASL). Now the Pumas (Kitsap Soccer Club) are getting ready to play in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) as an amateur side. The Force have hopped leagues multiple times. They were in the PASL, then joined the WISL. The Force Women were in the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) and then helped found the NWPL. So…what does that make? Seven adult leagues for Kitsap clubs since 2009.

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Suddenly two amateur men’s clubs in Bremerton

kitsap_soccer_club_logo2_smallgoalWA.net wanted to get some thoughts from Force owner Bill Wright about the latest change in Kitsap Soccer, the Pumas’ switch to the NPSL and amateur status. Suddenly Bremerton, without a college soccer program in all of Kitsap County, has not one but two team rosters to fill with KSC in the NPSL and the Force in the EPLWA. “I do not think it (Pumas going amateur) will have much of an effect on soccer in the community as a whole, but it does bring the level of play in this area down a notch from what KSC had been promoting,” Wright states.

“The Kitsap / West Sound area has always produced good talented players in the under 18 age groups and they have represented us well throughout the state. Not necessarily from a youth team perspective, but through individual performances. KSC began to make a name for the area in the professional arena with their success in the PDL. However, we have not been known as a strong college area for soccer, and in fact, there are no colleges within West Sound that field a soccer team. For KSC to be successful, it would seem to me that they will need to be successful in recruiting players outside of the area to basically join a summer team away from home. This will be challenging with tryouts, training, and league games overlapping with college semesters.”

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Enrique Hidalgo (left) is an example of a Force player who still wants to compete at an elite level after his college-aged years have passed.

How are the Force and Pumas different, now?

Kitsap Soccer Club is really preparing for a ‘rebirth’ as an amateur side in a new, national league. The Force have been amateur since they joined the EPLWA back in 2015 when they took over the WestSound FC Men’s squad in the statewide EPLWA. So how does Wright see the different ways the two clubs can serve players? “The difference that Olympic Force brings is the same as when we started – we are a community team bringing opportunities for a) young developing players to play at a higher level prior to college, b) a place for returning collegians to stay sharp and play competitive prior to returning to school, and c) a place for good local talent to maintain their skill set and competitiveness after their college years.”

The Force have a group of players who have worn the crest for a few seasons. It’s still expected some of them will try out for the Pumas. “On the one hand, we have players entering the team that are aspiring to do more in the sport;” Wright explains, “and on the other hand, we have players that have reached their peak, perhaps lost a step, but still have a lot to offer the game and developing players and would like to continuing playing.”

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Miles Nilsen (Central Kitsap High School) is an example of the local talent the Force have drawn to their roster. Nilsen led Olympic in goals in the EPLWA in 2016.

Wright still sees the Force as featuring the local soccer flavor of Kitsap County. “If you come to a Force game, then the chances are that you will know and recognize players on the team from within the community. These are players that someone can see playing and say, “Hey, I saw that kid play in high school,” or “that guy works at the restaurant I go to,” or “that girl trains the little rising Force kids at the indoor center.” The bottom line is that this is the community’s team.”

The Pumas have the fan base and the track record of success in Bremerton. But that was over 8 years of paying players to come to Bremerton. “KSC has relied on their “professional” title in the past and the success that they had,” reflects Wright. “They are a good organization and have produced good players. Some of those past players play and coach with the Force today. I am not so sure it is about us trying to differentiate ourselves from them, as our identity has not changed. I think the challenge might be, how will they differentiate themselves from us and from their past?”

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In order to keep elite women’s adult soccer alive in West Sound the Force helped found the Northwest Premier League in 2016.

Once, twice, three times a Force

We began this article with the note that the Olympic Force are the only adult club in the state of Washington with elite clubs in the WISL, EPLWA and NWPL. It’s a bit surprising this has happened in Bremerton, but it continues because of the work of those who run the club.

“We feel blessed and honored to be able to participate in all 3 state leagues. It is not always a simple task, but what it provides to the community is worth the cost,” Wright believes. “With the WISL, we provide a high level, exciting, and fast paced game at the Olympic Sports Center – indoor soccer facility. It is exciting for the fans and the community embraces the team during the cold wet months in the winter. This is where we started and this is where our Force family was really cultivated. With the EPLWA (men’s team) and NWPL (women’s team) we are filling a void in the community for higher level soccer beyond 18 years of age. When Olympic College dropped their soccer program, it galvanized our resolve to field both a men’s and women’s team. We are still working to grow our fan base and make players and the community aware of the opportunities with these teams.”

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Diego Aceves (Port Orchard) gets a lift as he chats with David Meherg (headgear, Poulsbo) during a Force WISL match.

What keeps the Force going? “Our biggest joy is the connections that we make with the young soccer players that attend our games, act as ball kids, and often play half-time scrimmages,” says Wright. “The adult teams give the kids role models to look up to and players that they may aspire to be like. At the end of the day, it is all about community and soccer development. Starting with our Rising Force program (from 2 years old to 12 yrs), progressing through our development programs that work side by side with the local clubs to support them, and concluding with our adult teams – it is all about community.”

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