People want to be a part of success. For local soccer teams, they’re hoping that leads to sustainability.
Last year, Woodland’s boys’ soccer team had its first state appearance since 2002. Toledo/Winlock United won its first state game ever. R.A. Long had its fifth-ever state appearance; four in the past decade.
Locals finally got to see what top-level soccer looks like. But the question is a reasonable one to ask: Where do we go from here?
R.A. Long has been able to build something consistent. Four state appearances in the past 10 years, and three in the last four is nothing to sniff at. But they lost star twins Manny and Jesus Cabrera along with three other top-level starters. Another run as a top 16 Class 2A squad isn’t going to be easy.
“Unlike the last three or four years, there’s more questions than answers,” RAL coach Max Anderson said. “I knew we had talent and experience returning, but I didn’t appreciate the challenge of losing five starters.”
Toledo/Winlock United appears to be readying for its final hurrah. Longtime local coach Horst Malunat said it’s likely his last year coaching. With 12 of the 19 rostered players graduating after this season, this could be United’s best chance at a final four appearance.
“I think a lot of last year was that we were just happy to be there,” Malunat said. “This year, it’s like, ‘Let’s go out on top.’ We’ll do the best we can. It’s motivating that we have a lot of seniors who want to do well.”
Woodland is where R.A. Long and United were four or five years ago. They just scratched the surface of what can be achieved with this talented crop of players. The Thrall trio — Aidan, Jesse and Treyson — are stars, and a state defeat last year has only made the Beavers hungrier.
“We talked a lot about not letting last year be good enough,” coach Bryan Vogel said. “We’re not just looking at it like, ‘Hey, we had the best season in program history,’ we’re using it as motivation.”
Setting up a program for long-term success in baseball-rich and soccer-poor Cowlitz and Lewis Counties often comes down to a little bit of luck. “Part of it is just enrollment trends,” Anderson said.
The other key is tapping into the youth programs early. Teaching the same tactics and systems that the high-school team uses, along with building fundamentals young, helps establish a program’s identity.
“There has to be opportunity,” Anderson said. “Whether it be formal (club or select) or grassroots (family or community games common in Latino communities), there needs to be development opportunities.”
In areas without much soccer, that becomes a family commitment, Malunat explained.
“To find competition, and find it at a higher level, the parents have to drive every weekend up to Seattle or down to Vancouver,” he said. “It’s different than other sports in that way. Baseball is offered in a lot of places; basketball is offered everywhere. Soccer you have to seek it out.”
Once success translates to the varsity level, it’s trying to keep that train on the tracks that becomes the goal. For the Beavers, they’re hoping this talented and personable group can start something big through its connection to the community.
“You want the kids coming to start dreaming about playing under the lights someday,” Vogel said. “For a lot of them, that’s the end. That’s where they’re trying to go. … They look up to the high schoolers. They’re superstars to them. To keep the fire burning for the youth program, that’s huge.”