Ready or not, the Spokane Shadow begins defense of its USISL Premier League division title tonight.
And the team beset by injuries couldn’t have a tougher opening weekend.
The Shadow plays the Cascade Surge in Salem, Ore., tonight and faces the Puget Sound Bigfoot in Bellevue on Saturday.
Cascade started its season last week with a pair of wins, edging Yakima 1-0 and beating the Bellingham Orcas 3-2 in a shootout. Puget Sound beat the Shadow, which only lost three games during the regular season, twice last year.
Meanwhile, the Shadow learned projected starting goalkeeper Chad Bedall is out for the season. Bedall, a Coeur d’Alene native, broke his arm in practice last week and had surgery Wednesday.
Harlan Slind won’t be ready until next week because of an ankle injury. Jim Martinson, who has a knee injury, is two or three weeks away. Chad Brown is day-to-day because of a hip injury. He won’t make the trip.
Dustin Pilcher, who is also from Coeur d’Alene, has been signed to start in goal. His backup will be John Nogel, who started the first half of last season.
Keeper Joshua Fouts, one of five Gonzaga University players who can suit up once school is out, is expected to become the No. 1 goalie, and R.J. Merritt, who was on the roster last year, is going to rejoin the team.
The first home game is May 11 against the Tucson Amigos.
The Northwest Division now has five teams, with only the Shadow and the Bellingham Orcas the same as last year.
The Salem Surge and Yakima Reds drop down from the Pro League and the Puget Sound Bigfoot is a combination of last year’s Everett Bigfoot pro team and the Puget Sound Hammer of the premier.
The Northwest has no Pro League teams.
The USISL has four leagues, the A League, which includes the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver 86ers, the Pro League, the Premier League and a women’s league.
There are 25 A teams, 40 pro teams, 30 premier teams and 32 women’s teams.
Each team plays 20 games. Only games against division rivals count in the standings except for tiebreakers.
In the Northwest, the Shadow plays each division team twice at home and twice on the road.
Spokane’s other four games include the Mother’s Day home game against Tucson, a May 30 visit from the Premier League champion Central Coast Roadrunners and a road trip to California the last weekend of the regular season to play a pair of pro teams. The pro teams are the San Francisco Seals, who beat Spokane 3-2 last year to advance to the national finals, and the Chico Rook. Those games are July 18 and 19.
Statistics from all games count, but team points in the standings only reflect those earned from division games.
Spokane also has a home exhibition game against the Vancouver 86ers on July 5.
All Shadow games will be broadcast on The Score, 970-AM, with Jay Stewart again doing the play-by-play. … Once all teams in the Northwest Division are solid, Shadow officials are hoping a women’s division can be added. Jen Tissue, a Shadle Park and Whitworth standout, made the San Francisco Seals women’s team, named the Night Hawks. … No site has been chosen for the midseason All-Star game where the premier stars meet the pro stars. Spokane’s Zane Higgins, one of the top scorers in the nation, participated in that game last year. … Shadow games begin at 7:05 p.m., except for the Mother’s Day game, which starts an hour earlier.
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