A new statewide semi-pro men’s soccer league will begin play in the spring, and the Tri-Cities will have a team in it.
The Evergreen Premier League (EPLWA), billed as a new men’s elite soccer league, begins in May 2014.
On Thursday, the EPLWA announced that the Three Rivers Soccer Club was accepted as the league’s sixth franchise.
It is called FC Three Rivers.
Pasco’s Chad Bodnar, who coaches the Walla Walla Community College men’s and women’s soccer teams, also is the director of coaching for Three Rivers.
“To me, this has been the first semi-pro league around the state that has been legit,” Bodnar said. “They have a business plan. We looked at it at first, and thought that this is better organized. So I think it’s going be a legitimate league.”
Especially after he saw the league’s preliminary lineup.
The other franchises so far are the Bellingham United FC, the South Sound FC (Tacoma), the Wenatchee United FC, the Seattle Stars FC (Tukwila), and the Westsound FC (Silverdale).
The original goal was to have 10 clubs for the 2014 season, with a double round-robin league schedule — making for 18 league matches — that runs through the end of summer.
But David Falk, the coordinator of the EPLWA, said that may change.
“(Ten teams) is the magic number, but as we approve franchises they are then integrated into our thinking,” Falk said. “Many of these players are in college, and until we have a different type of player, we need to make sure league play is done before everyone goes back to school.”
The schedule would encompass 12 weekends.
“That gives us 12 weekends to play 18 matches, and that is tight,” Falk said. “Then there might be teams that want to play in the U.S. Open Cup. Taking that into account, we’re thinking eight clubs might be the right number for the first season. That is not official, but that is the current thinking. We want to do things right.”
Even if it was an eight-team league, Falk said it would still be the largest league in the state.
Falk said there were 22 potential ownership groups in a conference call last week.
“And 14 officially applied for the league,” he said.
The league will announce the seventh franchise on Monday. Unofficially, it is likely to be Spokane.
Falk also said negotiations have begun with a group from Yakima.
But one of the hardest things Falk and the committee had to go through was selecting one Tri-City applicant. That’s because there were two strong applicants in the Tri-Cities.
“We had another one from one of the local adult leagues who had great ideas,” Falk said. “But in the end, Three Rivers had the infrastructure. It was great to get Tri-Cities on the board. It’s been way overdue there.”
Bodnar said Thursday that he and Mike Pardini — Three Rivers’ assistant coaching director — will likely co-coach the EPLWA club.
“The season is going to fall in a less busy time for the club,” Bodnar said.
And while there are plenty of venues for a soccer club to play at in the Tri-Cities, Bodnar has hopes for one the club can call its own.
“We’re talking to a couple of different people,” Bodnar said. “We’re talking with the City of Pasco, actually trying to make a possible stadium where our fields are (on Road 68). We really want to make it a soccer specific deal.”
But first things first: sponsors are needed.
“We’re looking for a major investor who wants to be a sole investor in the deal,” Bodnar said. “We’re working on business plans, and we’re working on trying to find investors. It’s a pretty cost-effective league.”
As far as players are concerned, Bodnar said the day after he knew there’d be a team in the Tri-Cities, four to five NCAA Division I players from this region (Mi-Columbia) contacted him about playing in the Tri-Cities.
“We really want to attract the quality player,” he said. “We also want to draw the good, local Hispanic players who are in town. And we also want to look at guys from around the country who can come in during the summer to play.”
And the club can have those players getting paid for working with the kids in the Three Rivers organization.
Once the sponsors are in and the players have arrived, Bodnar sees nothing but success for the FC Three Rivers squad.
“The Tri-Cities has a big soccer following,” he said. “There are a ton of Tri-Cities people who would support this.”