Soccer is the Thrall family business. And business is booming.
“Some people go to the beach. Some people take vacations. We play soccer,” Woodland freshman Treyson Thrall said.
Treyson, Jesse (a sophomore) and Aidan (a junior) have transformed a once defunct Beavers’ boys soccer program into a perennial contender. After a state first-round exit last season, Woodland and the Thralls are thinking even bigger.
“They got a bitter taste in their mouth against Highline last year,” coach Bryan Vogel said of the 3-1 season-ending loss in the first round of state. “They’re hungry for that.”
It’s just in the Thralls’ nature to always want the best, and demand it from their teammates. Club players for years, the trio opted to play high school soccer, a decision elite soccer players often forego. The Thralls chose a history-making path, one that led the program to its first district title game last year. It’s on track to do the same this year.
It began with Aidan, the strong midfielder with a knack for winning 50-50 balls and distributing them to attacking teammates. Jesse followed suit, using his creative runs and passionate play to pressure defenses and generate opportunities on goal. Then came broad-shouldered Treyson, the biggest of the bunch at 5-foot-11 whose goalkeeping always keeps Woodland in games.
Even grandma Janet sits just outside the field, snapping photos of her talented kin.
“It means a lot,” Treyson said of the family atmosphere. “They’re always supporting me, and it feels good.”
Jesse embodies the fiery family mindset the most. At times, it comes out as aggression and results in yellow and red cards. Other times, it’s channeled into brilliant shots and beautiful attacks.
“I’ve seen a lot of players come through, but I’ve never seen a player with the same passion for the game as Jesse,” senior defender Owen Terhorst said.
That drive to succeed used to be an issue for Jesse. It came out as more of a rage, and sometimes still does. But he also knows what it demonstrates.
“There was one coach that told (my parents): ‘When he gets mad, it means he cares. It means he wants to do better,’ ” Jesse explained. “Since I was young, I’ve always had a really competitive mentality. Whenever I play anything, I want to win.”
Maybe it’s that he’s always had to stack up to his older brother, Aidan, or the fact he’s the smallest of the trio. Either way, Woodland is reaping the rewards.
“We’ve had some great players that were great practice players but come gameday, they disappeared,” Vogel said. “To have guys that play at a high level and want to do well and have that competitive drive, it’s been real leadership on and off the field.”
Before stepping foot onto the Beaver Stadium turf, the trio had a decision to make: play academy soccer year-round or turn out for the high school team. It’s not an easy choice for a young soccer player.
“They could go find higher level teams where everyone around them can play at a similar level,” Vogel said.
But they wanted to be part of something bigger, something the club experience doesn’t offer.
“Just looking forward to bringing the level up and bringing the program along is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Aidan said.
Added Jesse: “You don’t feel as much pride playing club as you do playing for your school, playing for your community. … It feels really good to play here.”
It’s also been a learning experience they wouldn’t have received at a different level. Heading into each of their freshman years, they thought they would dominate. Between the physicality of the high school game and the age gap between players, it hasn’t been quite that easy.
“You have to think a bit more and use your knowledge of the game to break them down,” Vogel said. “It’s been a slight learning curve for all of them.”
They’ve also had to learn to lead and perform in pressure situations. At a club level, they’re not the best players on the field at all times. For the eldest, that’s been a good opportunity to get a taste of leadership. Down 2-0 in a game against R.A. Long last season, Aidan scored three goals and led his team to a 4-3 win.
“That experience and level of calm from just having played a ton of games and played at pretty high levels,” Vogel said. “It’s hard to teach that.”
They all could choose to play for the Portland Timbers Academy at any time. Jesse and Aidan have both poked around at the idea. Vogel is glad they’ve stuck around and helped bring the rest of the team to their level.
“The fact they’re willing to buy into what we’re doing here is huge,” Vogel said. “They want that camaraderie of playing with their high school teammates and playing under the lights. It’s not something you can replicate in the club environment.”
Beyond winning a state title in the next couple seasons, all three want to play elite collegiate soccer and eventually turn professional.
Many dream of reaching that stage. The Thralls may have a chance to do it. Aidan is intrigued by playing at San Francisco State and Jesse has his eyes on Oregon State. Treyson isn’t ready to set his sights on anything yet.
“I don’t think I should set a peak,” Treyson said. “I can always get better; I can always work toward improving myself.”
That mentality is true of all three brothers and a big reason Vogel — who coaches the Lower Columbia College women’s team and has seen what it takes to play at the next level — believes they can get there.
“Guys that go pro, a lot of times it’s not necessarily being the best player on their club team but guys that have the drive, the guys that didn’t quit and wanted it no matter what,” Vogel said. “All three spend a ton of time working on their game. That competitive drive could get them who knows where.”
For now, they will relish the opportunity to play together, garbed in green and white and sporting a big W on their chest.
Said Aidan: “It’s been a dream come true.”