XI Questions With… Kitsap SC
When the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers moved to MLS, the attendances those clubs achieved put the Pacific Northwest on the map as the country’s most soccer mad region. Another by-product of the Sounders move from USL to MLS was the creation of the Kitsap Pumas. Robin Waite was one of the owners of the USL Sounders, and rather than joining the MLS group, Waite bought the other owners out of the USL rights and placed a team across the Puget Sound from Seattle in Bremerton, Washington.
One of the few professional setups in the USL’s Premier Development League, the Kitsap Pumas became a powerhouse at that level. They won the Northwest Division out of the gate in their debut year of 2009, and then won the entire league in 2011. With four division titles under their belt, Kitsap made headlines with their performances in the U.S. Open Cup. The 2011 team made it to the tournament’s Third Round, where they lost to the MLS Sounders. However this year was their most successful Cup run. Kitsap made it all the way to the Fourth Round in the 2016 tournament, as far as any USL team, beating the third division league’s flagship franchise, Sacramento Republic, along the way.
As the club moves from PDL to NPSL, 2017 will be a transitional year. Instead of being known as the Kitsap Pumas, the club will be called Kitsap SC this year due to the transition and then will revert back to the Pumas name next year. The leadership of the team looks forward to an opportunity to push forward to more success in the NPSL, a platform they feel gives them more flexibility going forward.
Midfield Press was able to speak with Cammy MacDonald and Liviu Bird of Kitsap SC, the club’s head coach and an assistant coach, respectively, to discuss the club’s past, present and future.
1. How and why was the club founded?
Robin Waite, the owner of the club, was an owner in the original USL Sounders. He took the USL rights across Puget Sound to Kitsap County. It didn’t make sense to put a team in the USL Pro division with the lack of teams on the West Coast at that time, but he was able to put it in the PDL. To have a smaller local club on your doorstep on the Olympic Peninsula, about an hour outside Seattle, was a gap in the market.
2. The big news recently is that you have switched leagues from the USL PDL to the NPSL. What led to that move?
The owner had ambition to move the club back up to the USL Pro level eventually, but that doesn’t appear to be feasible with the current business model. The NPSL offers the club a bit more flexibility.
3. What venue does the team currently play in?
We play at Gordon Field, which is a 1,500-seat stadium at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds. It is a turf field that is part of the local parks association. We rent it from them. In the last few of years, we have been using a couple of the barns as locker rooms, which always gives an interesting experience to visiting players, though we’re continually looking at upgrading the venue. We use the same field for training and games, and it is a great fit for us. We are looking at expanding and improving the stadium in various ways.
4. What does attendance look like a typical match? What was your best attended match and the circumstances around it (including the attendance #s)?
It depends on who you are playing against and the time of year. In Washington, we have a notoriously rainy spring and a good summer. Usually we can get between 500 and 1,000, maybe a little more than a 1,000 if the opponent and weather conditions are right.
Kitsap County has a lot of young families and a lot of people who play soccer. Parents and their younger kids, that sort of thing. We also try to draw from the local Navy base. In the past, we have played an annual friendly against the team from Navy Base Kitsap as part of our community outreach. We’re doing the best we can to attract more casual sports fans as well. We are always looking to expand our reach.
5. Seattle is a booming soccer market, with the Sounders drawing incredible attendance year after year. Do you think that Seattle metro area could support an independent NASL or USL team in addition to the Sounders?
It is possible – it depends. When we talk about the Seattle metro area, it is a big area. Are people going to go from Seattle to Bremerton to watch us play? Probably not. When we’re talking about the cities between Seattle and Tacoma, that is where the Sounders draw their fans from as well as east of Seattle. I don’t think the area would support a second MLS team, but a team in the lower leagues? With the right people involved, perhaps. Maybe a USL or NASL team could be in Tacoma, an hour south of Seattle. It would need to be far enough away from Seattle, and then you could be convenient to the local area. You could maybe go east, but Tacoma would be the most likely spot given the distance and population there.
6. Kitsap has been one of the most successful clubs playing at the D4 level. You recently had a great run in the U.S. Open Cup, beating the Sacramento Republic of the USL and making it to the Fourth Round. What is the long term vision for the team?
Right now, we’re just trying to get off the ground in the new league. In this country, we don’t have promotion and relegation, so it is hard to put a long range view on growth beyond that. Right now, we focus on the Open Cup where we can play teams like the Sounders and the Republic. We’re looking forward to playing in NPSL and seeing what we can bring to that league. Another appealing thing about being in the NPSL is that we can perhaps help the league grow in the Pacific Northwest, which is one of the last areas of the country where it hasn’t gained a strong foothold yet.
7. What does the current investor profile look like?
We have a sole owner, Robin Waite. He was part owner of the USL Sounders.
8. Have you spoken with potential investors about moving the team up to USL or NASL?
Right now, we’re not really having those kinds of discussions with anybody.
9. Would the current venue hold up if you moved to USL/NASL or would you need to find a new home? If so, are there existing stadiums you could use in your area or would the investors need to build a new one?
I don’t think we would need a new venue necessarily, but we would need to make some renovations to where we currently play.
10. What advice would you give someone looking to start an NPSL club like Kitsap SC in their community?
It takes a really dedicated group of people, not necessarily a big or well paid group of people. You have to have a dedicated group of people who are going to work hard. It is going to take a community effort. It can’t be done with one or two people. You have to get the community involved and get everyone behind it. We have a very committed group of people. If you’re involved in our club, you know that you have a very hands-on role and that you can be heavily involved in the day-to-day running of the club.
11. What else should the readers of Midfield Press know about your club?
We strive to provide good entertainment for everyone in our area, a good soccer team that everyone in Kitsap County can get behind. Just like every other club in the lower leagues in the US, we’re trying to carve out our own space. If we can do decently in the league, play good soccer and maybe make a deep run in the Open Cup that gets us some attention from outside the area, then we’d call it a successful season.
A big thank you to Cammy and Liviu for taking the time to answer our questions, and look for more “XI Questions With…” NPSL and PDL teams in the future.
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