At 25 years old, Vancouver native and Evergreen High School grad Timur Zhividze knew his time in developmental soccer leagues was running thin.
If he was going to live out his dream of playing soccer professionally, he’d have to start making something happen for himself.
Playing in his third season with the Portland Timbers U23 team, Zhividze, a striker, was scoreless through seven games. He tried to just focus on the moment, and play the game he loves.
“Honestly, it’s in the back of my mind,” Zhividze said. “I mean, I’m 25 now. I’ getting to point where either I’m playing soccer or I have to start working on my career and start working on other stuff.”
Playing soccer professionally has been Zhividze’s dream since he was in Russia, a young lad playing with a ratty ball on makeshift goals in a small village a 10-hour drive from Moscow. Him and his family, which includes five brothers and two sisters, moved to the United States when he was 13. It was a new chance for Zhividze.
“We moved just for a better life, for opportunity,” he said. “As you can see, some of us have gotten college degrees and a huge opportunities with soccer. There wasn’t much back home.”
Zhividze wasn’t about to let his soccer dreams wilt on the vine. With four games left in the season, Zhividze blossomed. He finished with seven goals, including two games with hat tricks.
His career had new life.
Weeks later, he had a trial for a club in El Salvador. It didn’t work out.
And then a tweet: “God is so good!!!!”
Zhividze had signed his first professional contract with the National Independent Soccer Association’s Philadelphia Fury on July 31. Five days later, he would be on a field in Philadelphia for the team’s training camp. The season begins on Aug. 31, and Zhividze expects to play a big role.
“For the last eight years, I always thought ‘If I could be making money and playing soccer, then why not?’ ” he said. “It’s a dream come true. I don’t see a better scenario making money to do something you absolutely love.”
Making the cut
When Zhividze first arrived in Washington, he was desperate for a soccer chance. He would ride his bike five miles to tryout for soccer teams, only to get cut days later.
“I was really struggling,” Zhividze said.
But after his freshman year at Evergreen, he found a club spot on the Timbers Academy and set out on a mission.
“I just had to prove it to myself and those who didn’t take me for their teams,” Zhividze said. “It’s kind of fueled me to go out of my way and improve on my game.”
He earned all-league MVP honors his junior season after scoring 16 goals and 21 assists, an Evergreen record. He eventually went on to play at Concordia University and then Corban. He scored 47 goals in his college career before moving on to play with the Timbers U23s.
Setbacks and triumph have defined Zhividze’s career thus far, and he’s not done yet.
“Instead of giving up and saying ‘Oh well, I’m not good enough,’ I know I can get there,” he says. “Getting this opportunity is huge. I know I just needed a little chance to get in an environment where I can succeed. I’m very thankful to the Philadelphia Fury.”
Zhividze is very close with his brothers. Levan and Iliya both went on to play at Corban as well. It makes for a very competitive household.
The entire family, including extended family and friends, rent out the Clark County Indoor Sports Center every Friday, and “it gets pretty competitive.”
It’s a long way from the rickety goals and street-worn ball they played with as kids in Russia.
“Back home, we didn’t have a lot,” Zhividze said. “Coming from a family that has 10 people, you had to be thankful for anything you get. … Every little opportunity for something nice in life, you were really grateful. If something hard comes your way, you don’t put your head down, you just go with it.”
It’s helped shape who Zhividze is, and why he’s never let his dreams fade.
“It’s been a long journey,” he said. “I’m really thankful for my family, and all the coaches who believed in me and gave me a chance to show myself, and my friends who have been a huge support to keep me going.”
What is NISA?
The National Independent Soccer Association is a newly formed professional soccer league, sanctioned as Division III association of the United States Soccer Federation. An eight-game fall schedule and eight teams were officially announced in June and play will begin this fall. Three more clubs are expected to join the league in the spring for the second half of the inaugural season.
The league will be divided into fall and spring seasons to more closely resemble the international schedule, rather than Major League Soccer’s summer schedule. Teams include Atlanta SC, California Unite Strikers FC, Los Angeles Force, Miami FC, Oakland Roots SC, Philadelphia Fury, San Diego 1904 FC, and Stumptown Athletic (Charlotte, N.C.). Expected to join in the spring are clubs in Baton Rouge, La., Norwich, Conn., and Providence, R.I.
“There’s a lot of players who haven’t been seen yet, and I include myself in that situation,” Zhividze said. “More pro leagues in the U.S. is just going to create more opportunities for players who deserve it.”