Chad Bodnar, the coaching director for Three Rivers Soccer Club in Pasco, has dedicated himself to giving young athletes a chance to expand their skills and further their own playing careers.
His latest endeavor, a collaborative effort with FC Nova — a soccer club based out of Boise, Idaho — and the Coeur d’Alene Sting will ensure that the best girls high school soccer players in the Tri-Cities get a chance to prove themselves on a national stage.
The three clubs have entered into a partnership that will allow players from each club to combine as one team and compete in the Elite Clubs National League, an organization founded in 2009 designed to “enhance the developmental experience of youth soccer players in the United States”, according to its website.
The appeal of the ECNL is the high level of talent and the direct access to college coaches, who routinely watch elite club games in search of players to stock their programs.
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“It’s something we’ve been working on for a year. We had to think out of the box,” Bodnar said. “We keep trying to grow women’s soccer in the Tri-Cities, but the two best club leagues in the state are over on the west side. A lot of kids in our area don’t get exposed to that.
“This partnership gave us another way to get kids exposed.”
Eric Simmonsen, the technical director for FC Nova and a former coaching colleague of Bodnar’s, said that the Boise organization applied for membership to the ECNL twice but was rejected both times.
The joint partnership was attractive to the 76-team ECNL because it allows access to the top players from eastern Washington and Idaho. FC Nova was one of just three clubs accepted for membership by the ECNL this year.
“Tri-Cities and Boise are similar population-wise. This is an ideal situation,” Simmonsen said. “When we got the ECNL bid, it was like, be careful what you ask for. It’s a huge national platform, and it’s amazing how professionally run it is.”
The ECNL schedule includes an eight-month regular season (September through June) plus large-scale national showcase tournaments — the next one in Zarephath, N.J. on May 25-27 — every month. The ECNL features six divisions: U-14, U-15, U-16, U-17, U-18 and U-23.
Bodnar, a former Pasco star who also coaches the men’s and women’s teams at Walla Walla Community College, said that two or three girls from each age level will be selected from the Three Rivers club teams to play in ECNL events. However, he did acknowledge the enormous financial strain on players and parents with the added travel costs and time committment.
“We’re working to line up some sponsors to offset costs, but it’s kind of on the parents to make it happen,” Bodnar said.
Simmonsen said that some families shell out as much as $10,000 a year to play club soccer. He added that players within the Three Rivers/FC Nova partnership won’t have to commit to every ECNL event.
Ben Hipke, a 38-year-old Richland resident, has two daughters playing for Three Rivers SC — Kailee, who turns 15 on Sunday, and Grace. He said the travel costs may be steep, but the potential payoff — in the form of a college soccer scholarship — might be well worth the investment.
“It’ll be expensive, but it’s one of those things knowing how scholarships can go,” said Hipke, a plumber at Apollo Construction. “We’re excited about this. It was a real creative move to get us this opportunity. I haven’t heard of anything else like this.”
Hipke acknowledged the possibility of heavy competition and bruised egos in pursuit of the limited spots to make an ECNL traveling team, but said that comes with the territory.
“There might be, but when you start getting to that competitive level, there’s some of that already,” Hipke said.
Bodnar said Three Rivers is building the partnership as it continues to grow and will try to fold the boys side into the agreement in the next fiscal year. In the meantime, however, the partnership appears to have a bright future.
“I’m going to be one of the ECNL coaches for Nova. Some events will be held in Tri-Cities. If Nova plays Crossfire Premier SC (a club team based in Seattle), they’ll meet in Tri-Cities,” Bodnar said. “We’ll just work back and forth. We’ll support their tournaments and they’ll support ours.”
Note: Three Rivers SC will hold tryouts for Boys/Girls U-9 and U-10 competitive teams from 5-7 p.m. on Tuesday at the TCYSA Soccer Complex in Pasco (adjoining Gesa Stadium). There will also be tryouts in May for all age levels. Visit www.3rsc.org for a full tryout schedule.