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Soccer notes

Cascadia teams travel to Old Pueblo for conference championship

Don't worry, fellas: it's only a dry heat

Two teams of the three teams coming to Kino North Stadium this weekend to play in the PDL Western Conference championship are from Cascadia, that mythic soccer paradise that hugs the Pacific as its waters lap up on the shores of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.

The two teams, Vancouver Whitecaps U23 and Kitsap Pumas, combined only suffered four defeats while playing in a tough division. With that, there is one thing both of them will be facing Saturday that they have not yet encountered.

“We hear it’s hot, but that’s OK,” said Kitsap head coach Andrew Chapman. “We’ve been having 90-degree weather all last week, so we’ve had time to prepare for it.”

Tucson is expected to cool off by Saturday, but not to the 90 degrees that Chapman’s players had last week. The high is expected to be 100. That’s downright brisk by midsummer Tucson standards, but far past toasty for folks from the Pumas’ home base of Bremerton, Wash.

A player doesn’t get “used” to the heat so much as adjust for it. The two other teams in the tournament, local club FC Tucson and Ventura County Fusion, have been making those adjustments all summer. The challenge for Kitsap and Vancouver is to modify their tactics so they don’t end up with worn out players as the match goes on.

“We like a high-intensity type of game. We know we have to change things when we come to Tucson because of the heat,” said Vancouver coach Niall Thompson in a phone interview. “The game will change a bit.”

“We usually play a high pressure game. We won’t be able to press as high,” he continued. “There’s no secret there … we might have to change the way we play at certain times.”

Things may cool off a bit for Vancouver before their match gets started. Kitsap Pumas will start the evening at 6 p.m. with their match against Southwest Division champion Ventura County Fusion. Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-23 kick-off against FC Tucson at 8 p.m. Both matches are at Kino North Stadium. You can go to FCTucson.com for ticket information.

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Darragh Murphy is not involved

Kitsap Pumas are an anomaly in PDL: they are a full-blown professional team.

Whereas most of the teams in the league build their squads around college players who can keep their eligibility by playing on an amateur side, the Pumas bring in ex-collegiate players. Many PDL teams turnover players, even midseason, at the dictates of the college programs that they play for. Still, the Kitsap model doesn’t mean a stable roster from year to year.

“It’s hard to maintain the quality,” said coach Chapman, who announced earlier this month that he will be stepping down. “We don’t have a lot of returning players. This team right here, we only have two players on the team that were on the squad last year.”

One trouble for the team is that even though they are a pro team, the league still enforces age limits on the squad that are more suited for teams that build around college players.

“That over 23 years of age rule kind of gets us,” he said of league restrictions limiting the number of older players on a team. “We wait for them to be done with college. This year, we have eight guys over the age of 23, next year we would have 17 or 18 guys over the age of 23. We lose a lot of players from year to year. We are constantly recruiting a full squad every year.”

Even so, Kitsap has been one of the better teams in the league. They have qualified for both the playoffs and the U.S. Open Cup in four of their first five years of existence, and won the national championship in 2011. They had a bit of a slump last year, finishing in 5th place.

This year has gone much better for the team. They lost a grand total of one match and a stingy defense led by team captain Cory Keitz let in only nine goals.

The offensive side of the team is led by forwards Miguel Gonzales and Joaquin Rivas, who have combined for ten goals this season. One of the few locals on the squad, Gonzales is a recent graduate of Seattle University who scored 15 goals in 24 starts for his college last season. Still, Kitsap doesn’t count on him alone.

“We play an adaptive football, it depends on the team we are playing,” he said of their style. “We are very industrious. We are who we are: a typical West coast team.”

The west coast team they are playing, Ventura County, has built up an equally impressive record: eight wins to end the season with 27 points. The teams have met each other in the playoffs three times before, the last time being in 2011. That was before Chapman’s time.

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“I don’t know very much about them. We don’t see them much,” he said. “We have played them well in the past and they are well coached, a well structured team. They work hard and play hard and are very physical.”

Don’t look too hard at those games to guess a result. Each team has won once, with the 2010 game going into penalty kicks after two Ventura players were ejected. Kitsap advanced.

Oh Canada

Travelling even further to the Old Pueblo is Vancouver Whitecaps FC U23. The clunky name is from the fact that they are a sort of youth squad for Major League Soccer team Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

The Caps placed third in their division, but had an impressive 7–2 win over cross-strait rivals Victoria Highlanders in a play-in match last week to qualify.

The team is coached by Niall Thompson, a former player for the senior Whitecaps team. He points to a couple of players, the left footed Brett Levis and the team’s leading scorer Cody Cooke, as future members of the MLS version of the Whitecaps. He also feels another responsibility.

Thompson had nine caps for the Canadian National team and is involved in one of only three top-flight teams in Canada. In addition to training future Whitecaps, he’s looking to help the national team as well.

Canada had a spectacular run-up to the 1986 World Cup, winning the CONCACAF championship and qualifying for the first time in their history. Since then, they have only made the final round of qualifiers twice, the last time in the run up to the 1998 World Cup.

“At the end of the day we have to become better,” said Thompson, who scored for Les Rouges twice. “As an ex-player who has gone through the process, immigrated to Canada, developed in Canada, played in Europe, it’s massively important for us to get on the same level as the United States.”

“If we look down the line, we haven’t been in the World Cup,” he continued. “There are a lot of reasons for that. I don’t think Canadian soccer has figured it out yet.”

“For us, it’s getting a result against Tucson,” he said bringing it back to the game at hand. “It would be massive for our development as a club and for Canadian players.”

Saturday’s contest will be the first ever meeting between the teams, and the second time FC Tucson has played a Canadian club.

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Kitsap Pumas

Kitsap's Septi Danciu takes a shot against Vancouver Whitecaps FC U23 in their season opener on May 11.