The Spokane Shadow soccer team named Kieran Barton as the new head coach of the men’s first team Tuesday, a move that sees former head coach Stuart Saunders promoted to the club’s technical director.
Barton, who has also spent the last three seasons as assistant coach of Gonzaga’s women’s soccer team, was an assistant coach and player on last year’s Shadow team that finished tied for first in points in the Premier Development League’s Northwest Division standings (the Cascade Surge won the tiebreaker between the two teams).
The former Whitworth Pirate is looking forward to his first head coaching position above the youth level.
“I’m excited at this new opportunity,” Barton said. “I know we’re going to be a younger team than in the past and I hope we’re going to be an entertaining team and develop those younger players.”
Barton had a hand in mentoring some of last year’s youngsters both on and off the field as the team’s captain when he played and as assistant coach when he didn’t. And while he hadn’t ruled out playing altogether, his goal, at least initially, is to let the team take its shape and to stick to the sidelines.
“I’ll practice, but not play,” the 34-year-old Barton said, adding that at his age, leading a team from the sidelines provides its own thrills. “When you’re getting older, coaching is an exciting way to still be involved in the game.”
Saunders, the Shadow’s head coach the last five seasons, will expand his role in the club’s youth program and will be available to Barton as an advisor and assistant coach. It’s a possibility he’d been discussing with general manager Jeff Robbins for a while.
“It would have been more difficult had the organization gone outside,” Saunders said. “But we had someone on the inside who’s such a natural fit. It’s been an ongoing discussion. Five years is a long time for a coach in this league. … Now I’ll do whatever Kieran wants me to do.”
While coaching changes always bring with them some difficulties, this one figures to be as uncomplicated as a change can be.
“I think the transition will be seamless,” Barton said. “It will work out to help us. I will have Stuart here. I know the players and the players know me. They know the style that we will try to play.”
If that style is anything like Barton’s playing style, it will be one that’s hard-nosed, intense and resilient.
“They say a team reflects the personality of its coach,” Barton said. “We will fight all the way to the end, give the fans something to be excited about. … I’m almost as excited to watch the games as to coach them.”
Barton will also be excited about the return of last year’s under-19 PDL player of the year, Brett Hite. Hite, a University High School graduate, finished 12th in the PDL in scoring in 2004, finishing with 34 points (14 goals and six assists) in 15 matches.
“We have Brett coming back, and he’s probably the most recognizable name because he scores the goals,” Barton said of Hite, who spent last year at the University of Washington. “We need to build our experience at the back, but it’s nice to have someone up front who will get those goals.”
The rest of the roster won’t be finalized until after May 1, when college players are allowed to begin playing for their summer teams.