RICHLAND -- In 2004, Octavio DoValle had a vision of bringing semi-professional soccer to the Tri-Cities.
The veteran coach who guided Richland High School to the 2003 4A boys state championship came close, but plans to start a United Soccer League team stalled and the project dissolved.
Six years later, DoValle found a worthy partner in Spencer Moreno, a Pasco Soccer League coach who shared his vision, and the Columbia River Futbol Club was born.
"I kind of got burned the first time. You've got to have the right combination of people with you," DoValle said. "Spencer was the fire behind it."
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Columbia River FC, a member of the 28-team National Star Soccer League, began its inaugural season May 8 with a 5-2 win over Chelan Warriors FC at Bombers Soccer Field in Richland.
The club hasn't stopped winning, going 6-1 through its first seven games in the six-team Northwest Conference.
Moreno, who coached Brazil to the 2007 PSL Division I championship, recognized a great opportunity to capitalize on the area's local talent.
"I feel good about our progress even though it's our first year," Moreno said through an interpreter. "Things are going to get better."
The team has outscored opponents 26-7, with its only loss to Provo Premier FC in Utah on June 12. The team was missing two starters, however, and made the 12-hour road trip with just 13 players.
DoValle said the team typically travels with 18 players, 16 of whom dress for the game. The team can't afford to pay players -- that could change in the future depending on the growth of local sponsorship and local support -- though meals and travel costs are covered.
But money isn't the driving force for Columbia River players, most of whom juggle work and family responsibilities with practice and games.
"I play because I like it, not so much for making money out of it," said midfielder Luis Martinez, a 2006 Kamiakin graduate and CRFC captain. "We're looking at getting more sponsors and getting people to come out to games."
Columbia River FC will play its next game at 5 p.m. today at Bomber Field against Shelton Timberland FC. Admission is $4 for adults, and children under 12 are free.
Consisting of players ranging in age from 18 to 35, CRFC has given a hungry base of Tri-City area players another venue to play.
"My first thought is this is kind of a Tri-City dream team, having all these good players in one place," said defender Alex Exarhos, a 2006 Hanford graduate who recently finished a four-year career at Grinnell (Iowa) College. "I've been looking for something like this."
Most of the team's players are veterans of the Pasco Soccer League, a city league that has served as the area's best competitive option for players coming out of high school or college.
Until now, that is.
"There's a lot of talent in the Tri-City, and you get a little tired of playing the same teams in the PSL," said Martinez. "(The competition) is a little better than you see in the local leagues. Everybody plays the same way. When you travel, you have to adapt to a different style of play."
CRFC has five games left on its regular-season schedule, with home games against Shelton (today), Magic United FC (July 10) and Provo Premier FC (July 31) at Bomber Field.
Beginning July 17, the team will play two straight weekends on the road against Yakima United SC and Oregon FC.
The top two teams in each conference will earn NSSL playoff spots, and Columbia River currently holds the top spot in the Northwest Conference.
But the team's final showdown against Provo on July 31 likely will determine the top seed for the postseason, which begins Saturday Aug. 14.
Columbia River FC roster
Defenders: Nick Dahl; Alex Exharhos; Adiel Lozano; Daniel Valencia.
Midfielders: Matt Smith; Tito Cuevas; Luis Martinez; Alex Rodriguez; Enrique Moreno; Francisco Candido; Gerardo Lopez; Mike Chavez.
Forwards: Dino Ramic; Juan Arias; Victor Perez.
Goalkeeper: Octavio Virrueta.
* Jack Millikin; 509-582-1406; firstname.lastname@example.org