By Rob Shore
For Kitsap Soccer Club, the 2017 season began with the uncertainty of a largely blank slate.
A new coach in Roy Lassiter. A new league after moving from the PDL to the NPSL. A new business model in using exclusively amateur players — which meant a roster that was mostly new, as well.
Not to mention a new name.
The newly redubbed Kitsap SC finished the season with a NPSL Northwest Conference Division title, having gone 6-2-2 during the regular season, then advanced to the Western Conference semifinals before bowing out.
But it was a good ride while it lasted.
“I think there’s a lot to be proud of, for sure,” Lassiter said. “One, you bring in a group of players and have them play a style I’m wanting them to play and they do it. And they are inspired to be resilient and never stopped working, and they demonstrated that many times.”
Indeed, Kitsap SC’s run to the division title was built on the back of comeback victories: Kitsap improbably forged a 3-2 victory at FC Mulhouse Portland with goals from Joe Harris, Jorge Ruiz and Ryan Hill in the last 25 minutes. It also earned victories at PDX FC and Pierce County FC after first conceding the lead.
It also earned a point at home against Pierce County FC after giving up what looked to be the winning goal late, salvaging a draw with Tyler LaCourse’s header deep in injury time.
This Kitsap team saved its best work for the second half in 2017, scoring 16 of their 21 goals after halftime.
“At the end of the day, I wanted to give my players the belief they could win any game,” Lassiter said. “I wanted them to understand what the group was all about, coming back to win games. They had a massive belief from me that we could always get it done.
It was the 2-1 away victory over then-unbeaten PDX FC on June 8, getting goals from Nico D’Amato and Tony Mota, where coaches saw signs the team was starting to come together. The team had been built around the philosophy of playing with the ball on the ground, building up play through midfield, eschewing the so-called “route one” style of playing long balls from the back.
“The away win at PDX was the first big moment that the vision we had was starting to come forward,” associate head coach Liviu Bird said. “Before that, we were really committed to playing the right way. Playing at FCM, there was a bit of panic, a bit of a reactionary kind of feeling. At PDX, we went down a goal and still put our stamp on playing this way.”
It also led to Kitsap SC posting a perfect 5-0 record away from Gordon Field during the regular season, a record that led to a decisive four-game winning streak in the final stretch of the season. Goalkeeper Paul-Andre Guerin was a key factor in that winning streak as well, posting three of his four clean sheets in that span.
Adding the first-round playoff victory helped assure that Kitsap SC’s first season inaugural NPSL season — and its first season filling its roster with amateur players — was a success.
“The players we had (this season) were younger than what we (previously) had,” Bird said. “Hungry for success and hungry to learn. I love working with players like that. All things considered, I absolutely think that was a success.”
Kitsap continued into its first NPSL postseason with a 2-0 victory over FC Mulhouse Portland, getting goals from Romario Lomeli and Ruiz along the way.
The season-ending 4-2 loss to CD Aguiluchos USA in San Leandro, California on July 22 will leave a bitter taste, but that’s something to build from as well.
“Now, the boys get to go into the college season and redeem themselves and get that little needle out of their backside,” midfielder Chuy Sanchez said after the loss. “Ending the season on a loss is difficult to swallow, but once you get time to reflect you can start to see the positives.”
Bird said he hoped to see a core group from the 2017 season back for the 2018 NPSL campaign, possibly up to 12 returning players. The squad started three teenagers during the postseason — leading scorer Ruiz, Guerin and LaCourse, so the potential for a good foundation might be in place.
“One of the great things about the club is we’ll always want more,” Bird said. “Next year, we’ll always want more. That will be the lingering effect from that loss in San Leandro.”