In the summer of 1994, the world watched.
In May of 1995, Spokane Pro Sports and the United Systems of Independent Soccer League hope Spokane will, too.
The two unveiled plans to bring men’s professional soccer to Spokane when SPS president Rick Thomas and league CEO and commissioner Francisco Marcos announced formation of the Spokane Shadow.
“I have absolutely no doubt that Spokane will be great for this league or that the reverse will also be true,” Marcos said during a Friday afternoon press conference at Cavanaugh’s Inn at The Park.
The Shadow will compete in the newly formed Northwest Division of the USISL against the Hawaii Tsunami, Puget Sound Bigfoot, Portland Firebirds, Seattle Hammers, Yakima Reds and Salem Surge.
“Our basic concept is to grow regionally with at least four or five teams in each region,” Marcos said. “Soccer is getting ready to come out of the incubator, but is not ready for prime time or … Broadway lights.
“The only thing constant about this league is change. That’s where soccer is at in this country.”
Marcos likened the Shadow to baseball’s Spokane Indians or hockey’s Chiefs, saying, “The Indians and the Chiefs are no different philosophically than what we are.”
The team is owned by SPS, a company organized and owned by Eastern Washington and North Idaho business leaders. Its $100,000 annual budget is backed by 30-40 private investors, who have made a three-year sponsor commitment.
“Most are in it for the good of the sport,” Thomas said. “This team gives players a place to go play after college. A soccer player doesn’t fully develop his game until his mid-20s. He needs time to grow.”
The Shadow will hold tryouts March 4-5 at a site to be announced, drawing from local collegiate talent.
“Spokane is a big soccer mecca. We have had a lot of success with both our youth and collegiate programs with Whitworth as a member of the NAIA and now Gonzaga as a member of the NCAA’s West Coast Conference and, of course, the community colleges.”
The organization has hired Einar Thorarinsson as its head coach. Thorarinsson is in his ninth season as the head coach at Whitworth, guiding the men’s team into the national rankings six of those years.
“Einar is totally in charge of the players,” Shadow general manager Jeff Heimbigner said. “Einar’s resources are very extensive throughout the state and along the West Coast. I would imagine that about 70 percent of the players will come from the Spokane community.”
Whitworth women’s coach, Daman Hagerott, will be the assistant coach.
The Shadow will open their inaugural season with a game at Seattle on May 6. The home schedule kicks off June 10 against Yakima.
The formation of the Shadow is a culmination of a couple of months of frenzied work but has been in the minds of many for some time.
“This has been USISL’s vision since 1987,” Heimbigner said. “The success of the World Cup has shown soccer can be successful. We want to make sure soccer is not like the Olympics where it comes every four years and is gone.”
Offered Pacific Coast commissioner Terry Fisher, “There is no money in it now, but I will know we have made it when I meet my first player agent.”