by Tom Ament
President, Washington Youth Soccer
It's true of any World Cup year, but by any measure, 2014 was a banner year for the sport of soccer.
This summer, all eyes were on Brazil, as the world's best players battled over four weeks for the most coveted trophy in sports. In the end, Germany was the champion, but the American team -- led by their never-say-die goalkeeper, Tim Howard; their quiet leader up front, Clint Dempsey; and their breakout star, Washington Youth Soccer's very own DeAndre Yedlin -- captured the hearts of American sports fans like few that have ever come before. The video and still images of fans packed by the thousands into city parks and restaurants for public viewing parties during the U.S. games were a sign of how much the game has grown even in the lifetime of our U18 players.
It wasn't just on the international scene, though, where our beautiful game made significant strides. Closer to home, our Seattle Sounders FC won the U.S. Open Cup and the Supporter's Shield, falling just short of an unprecedented treble in the Western Conference Finals. Meanwhile, three of our very own Homegrown Players -- Sean Okoli, Aaron Kovar and Victor Mansaray -- were signed by the Sounders this year, while a fourth, Jordan Morris, earned his first-ever U.S. National Team cap.
The Eastside FC 98 Red girls team followed up their 2013 national championship with a first-place finish in the US Youth Soccer National League, and a trip back to the semifinals of the US Youth Soccer National Championships. In all, 25 Washington teams competed at Regional Championships, with 15 reaching the second round, and five making it all the way to finals. Each of these teams had outstanding years, and made the entire Washington Youth Soccer community proud.
Tacoma United B98 Chelsea, meanwhile, were the team to bring home the hardware in 2014, winning the US Youth Soccer National Presidents Cup. Just a few years ago, the club didn't even exist, and coach Tony Echaniz was scrounging for equipment and field space from anyone who would help. Now, the club has a National Championship trophy to display, a testament to the incredible dedication of Echaniz, the club staff and the parents and volunteers who believed in Echaniz' vision of a youth soccer club dedicated to underserved (and mostly Spanish-speaking) families throughout South Tacoma.
The hard work of other Washington Youth Soccer participants was also recognized on the national stage. Two Washington coaches -- Zahra Lechak and Chris Twombley -- were honored as US Youth Soccer Coaches of the Year, while the state's Soccer For Success program, which provides after-school programs that use soccer to combat obesity and promote healthy lifestyles, was featured on the US Youth Soccer Show, which credited its impact in the local community.
In addition, the new Washington Coaches Association streamlined licensing and education for Washington's thousands of recreational and competitive-level coaches, while the addition of seven Special Topics Seminars gave local coaches the chance to learn from some of the brightest minds in the game, including US Youth Soccer's Sam Snow and Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid.
As wonderful as they are, though, when I drive to the fields on a Saturday morning, I'm not generally thinking about any of these things. Instead, I'm thinking about the smiles on the faces of the players I see, and that I know are mirrored on the more than 97,000 recreational and competitive players throughout the state. Each one of those young people is participating in an experience that will be a transformative one in their lives. Whether they go on to play soccer for just one more year, 10 more years, or for a lifetime, the lessons they learn about teamwork, cooperation, discipline, hard work and self-sacrifice on those muddy fields are ones that will serve them throughout their lives, in any profession they choose.
In 2015, even more exciting developments are on the horizon. Snohomish Youth Soccer will host the US Youth Soccer Region IV Presidents Cup, showcasing our beautiful communities and talented soccer teams to squads from throughout the Western U.S., while Washington Youth Soccer alum Hope Solo will lead the U.S. Women's National Team in Canada on a quest for their first FIFA World Cup since 1999.
To the more than 150,000 parents across the state of Washington who have invested in your child's physical, emotional and psychological development, and shuttle them to and from practices and games 2-4 times a week ... thank you. You are the lifeblood of our organization, and the most important part of your child's growth. To the coaches, referees, administrators and countless volunteers who line fields, run snack shacks, coordinate teams and leagues and otherwise sacrifice their own personal free time for the good of our youth ... thank you. Let every child's smile on a soccer field be a credit to your hard work and commitment.
As we enter this holiday season, and soccer takes a well-deserved break, I lastly want to say thank you to all of the members of the Washington Youth Soccer community -- staff, parents, coaches and others -- who have helped make my first six month as President of Washington Youth Soccer so memorable. Here's to another great year.