Inside the Brain of a Teenage Soccer Genius

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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Tacoma Stars Shine On: PNW Soccer Fans Get the MASL Team They Deserve

This corner of the world has a spectacular soccer history, but the revival of the 1980's Tacoma Stars has been my favorite chapter thus far.

My first arena soccer experience was quite a spectacular one. My family and I traveled to Milwaukee to see the Rochester Lancers take on the Wave and had the time of our lives. Right off the bat we ran into the owner, Sue Black, and was shown around a bit and given great insight on running a large arena sports franchise. The environment was professional but light and fun and the soccer was everything I ever wanted. Speedy play, subbing on the fly, fascinating tactics, and a splendid display of ball skills and speed of thought from everyone on the field. We quickly realized that this is what Seattle was missing.
When it was announced that the Tacoma Stars were joining the MASL, I was thrilled on so many levels. Soccer Boss is quite the fair weather fan in a literal sense. If it's going to be cold and raining, I am not the first one to sign up to stand outside for 90 minutes holding a camera in my frozen hands (and if I am, you'll be getting a 90 minute lecture on how much I hate the cold and rain). Indoor soccer is the stuff of dreams. I was also there for every step of the Kitsap Pumas WISL team formation back in 2010 and witnessed just how addictive indoor soccer is to the sports fanatic. The pace can keep anyone intrigued and the skill that it takes to play at that speed can be appreciated by fans young and old with little to no prior experience with soccer. The family that was built up around that team has gone on to do amazing things- I wish everyone could have that sense of community and belonging.
Darren Sawatzky is a community man. From a distance, I've seen him make good players great and witnessed how much he supports his players. Those of us in the "business" of soccer know that a team is nothing without a massive community around it. You can call it a following, or a fan base, but usually it means a lot more to a team than that. As a reporter and a fan, I've always looked forward to going to games and seeing my people. We laugh together, we cry together (super sorry to the extremely nice couple sitting in front of us last Friday who were subject to my teary victory hugs after Mike Ramos scored the late winner) and what started as a bunch of strangers willing other strangers to kick a ball into a net and stopping it from going into ours turns into one big family. Football fandom is like falling in love; you're exposed and you're vulnerable to crushing disappointment and heartbreak, but when the stars align and the ball hits the back of the net, there is no feeling in the world that can beat that high.
The Stars squad for this year of building couldn't be better. Sawatzky started at the back: Danny Waltman is the absolute best goalkeeper we could have asked for. He's a hometown hero, his career experience is worth it's weight in gold and his willingness and his ability to connect with the fans is going to keep them loyal for seasons and generations to come. This franchise would not be what it is without him. Also rich in experience and personality, Elliot Fauske is a close contender for fan-favorite. Both Fauske and Waltman are players that the younger guys on the roster should feel lucky to play with. Joey Gjertsen has also had a huge impact on and off the field. Rostering players who were there to cheer on the original Stars back in the 80s just adds to the sweetness of this chapter in club history.  Watching the seasoned players on the same pitch as some of our young and exciting talents makes the coach in me giddy with excitement. Every time I watch them play, I know that for some of these players, their careers are coming to an end. With many of them, I have been lucky enough to witness parts of it along the way and I am so humbled and thankful to have gotten to see this piece of their journey. With young goalscorers out there like Ramos making names for themselves in the league, I know that the talent on the pitch will never run out, but each player is unique in playing style and hair style, and those individual qualities are always missed when it's time for them to move on to different things.
We have to credit fans of teams like the Stars and the Pumas or fans of any team in the developmental leagues. Things change so quickly. In my five years on this soccer scene I've seen so many players come and go and it's both exciting and heartbreaking. I care about their careers and success almost as much as they do. When your soccer community is a soccer family, you can't help but want the best for them.
In indoor, our time together is short but sweet. The natural speed of the game and the compact season create this incredible high-pressure environment where miracles happen. Mike Ramos's goal in the final second against the Sockers, seeing the team rally and almost pull off a draw in San Diego, Waltman's insane saves against the Fury- those are memories that an entire community will treasure forever. Those are moments where a group of people join together in a way that they never would under any other circumstance. It's unique and it's beautiful and it is so wonderfully ours.

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