Proposed merger would unite local youth soccer clubs

Camas-Washougal, Vancouver United might join forces

By Susan Abe, Columbian staff writer


Updated: January 29, 2011, 5:58 PM



Who might merge? Two youth soccer clubs that serve east Clark County and much of Vancouver. As part of the merger, two of the area’s top advanced-competition clubs — Columbia Premier and Washington Soccer Academy — will combine forces.

Why merge? Organizers say the larger club will mean bringing together the best coaches and players in the region to compete with the best teams in the state. The seamless soccer model will allow advanced-competition players to move among teams/levels within the club.

What about recreation soccer? Recreation soccer will not change significantly. Smaller rec programs will keep their identity and boundaries.

What will it cost? Prices are not expected to significantly change from existing levels. Recreation soccer $60-$80; select level $165; premier level $949.

When will it happen? If VUSA teams accept the proposed merger at a Monday vote, the clubs will merge immediately. Because tryouts for older-aged boys teams take place in February, coaching directors will begin interviewing and hiring coaches for those teams first.

What will the new club be called? A committee will consider options.

Is bigger really better?

Youth soccer players in Southwest Washington might soon find out.

Pending approval on Monday by the teams of the Vancouver United Soccer Alliance, the VUSA and the Camas-Washougal Soccer Club will merge to form a single club with 3,500 players ages 5-18.

Directors of the Camas-Washougal Soccer Club have approved the proposal. The new club would also combine the Columbia Premier Soccer Club and the Washington Soccer Academy, merging advanced-competition programs that currently compete for top players.

At the recreation level, players will still play for their neighborhood clubs.

Monday’s vote is the culmination of a process that began in the spring of 2010 with informal discussions among VUSA president David Hughes, VUSA coaching director Sunny Dulai, WSA president Mike Belzer and WSA director of coaching Gary Osterhage.

The unnamed new club would serve about 2,100 recreation players and another 1,400 players on advanced competition teams, according to Hughes.

Driving the merger discussions is a shift in philosophy at the state level to a “seamless soccer” model.

Instead of being locked into one advanced competition team following annual tryouts, players would be allowed to move between appropriate teams within the club.

Seamless soccer has been the norm in Oregon for several years and was adopted by the Washington State Youth Soccer Association at a constitutional convention in 2009.

The proposed merger would leave Clark County with four clubs offering advanced competition youth soccer.

Salmon Creek Soccer Club offers all levels of competition. Westside Soccer Club and Pacific FC (formed in 2010 to provide advanced-level soccer to players from the Battle Ground, Prairie, Lewis River and Eisenhower soccer clubs) will continue to offer competitive teams.

Joe Frimpong, the director of coaching for Salmon Creek, is a former coaching director at Columbia Premier Soccer Club who has been involved with soccer in this area since 1979. He said Salmon Creek will continue to focus on quality coaching and to field teams that can compete at high levels. He said he is taking a wait-and-see approach to this merger.

“What we all want is what is the best for the players in the area,” Frimpong said. “If this (merger) works for the players in the long run, that will be fantastic.”

Advanced competition teams are formed during annual tryouts.

Any player can try out for teams in his age range, regardless of where the player lives.

There are two basic levels for advanced competition youth soccer: “Select” teams generally play a seasonal schedule close to home and enter some tournaments. “Premier” teams are generally active most of the year and aim to compete in elite-level leagues and tournaments.

The new club plans to move toward fielding only two teams at the premier levels for each age group. Existing advanced-competition teams will be grandfathered into the new club, Hughes said. (Note: This paragraph has been edited for clarification since this story was first posted on

Dulai compared seamless soccer to the way high school players sometimes split time between the junior varsity and varsity squads.

To make such movement comfortable for players, parents and coaches, A and B teams will regularly train together, Dulai said.

In addition to seamless soccer, proponents of the merger see a variety of advantages to combining the clubs. Among them:

• A true pyramid development system, allowing the club to retain and develop elite-level players. Instead of competing to attract the top players in the county, the larger club would be able to form advanced competition teams that consistently compete with the state’s top clubs.

• Better training for coaches at all levels. The new club will hire two assistant coaching directors who will be charged with working with recreation clubs to train new coaches.

• Benefit from economies of scale. Hughes, the VUSA president, said that the combined club will have more negotiating power with uniform and equipment providers.

He noted that larger clubs attract more financial support through sponsorships, partnerships with companies, and grants.

Mergers between youth soccer clubs have become common in recent years. In Clark County, VUSA, Washington Soccer Academy, and Pacific FC are recent examples of soccer clubs formed through mergers.

One of the concerns raised most often to Hughes is whether the larger club will be too big to be effectively governed.

Hughes said he that the experience gained from the formation of VUSA will ease the administrative challenges presented by this merger.

The Washington State Youth Soccer Association is supportive of this merger.

Ron Witherup, the Washington State Youth Soccer Association liaison to southwest Washington, said the new club created by this merger fits perfectly with the WSYSA’s long-term plan to create mid-sized clubs that can offer a complete range of teams.

“(Seamless soccer) allows kids the ability to play at their appropriate level,” Witherup said. “It lets them play under one single organization, so they don’t have to jump from club to club” in search of more competitive teams.

Belzer said the goal isn’t to build a super club, but to bring together the best players in the county as teammates to compete against other top clubs.

“It’s not our goal to have as many teams as we can,” Belzer said. “At the (premier) level, we’re trying to put the best players in the county in a situation where they can compete together against the top teams in the state.”

By the time they reach high school age, the Clark County players who want a more competitive environment — and the opportunity to travel to large tournaments to be seen by college programs — have traditionally joined larger clubs in Portland, or in the Puget Sound area.

By combining their player pool and coaching staffs, the leaders of VUSA and Camas-Washougal/WSA can provide those opportunities in Clark County, according to Osterhage.

“The biggest advantage (to the merger) is being able to have really elite level development programs at every age,” Osterhage said.

Both Osterhage and Dulai predict the new club would produce state championship teams more often.

But, they emphasized that the primary mission for the club is improve the soccer experience by making it easier for players to play at the level most appropriate for their skill and commitment levels.

“The defining success of any club isn’t how many state titles you have,” Dulai said. “It’s at the U17 to U19 ages. How many players do you have (who have stuck with the club)? Are they moving to college soccer and other opportunities?”