Even as the soccer ball was being kicked up and down the field Saturday night, it also was being passed to a new generation.
And that was the whole point, even if most of the youngsters got their biggest rush from the halftime candy grab on the turf at Spokane Falls Community College.
In their first match in nine years, the Spokane Shadow drew 731 enthusiastic fans for a 2-1 loss to the Bellingham Hammers that was more about the process than the result – on and off the field.
“It was a great crowd,” said coach Chad Brown, a Shadow star in the late 1990s. “It was just like I remember back in the day.”
Back in that same day, a young Dave Ellis of Spokane came to Shadow matches as a teenager; now he’s bringing his whole family.
Ellis said he’d waited for this moment since August of last year, when the Evergreen Premier League of Washington accepted the Shadow into its ranks.
“I think it’s going to be a great event,” said Ellis, who organized the biggest tailgater out of dozens in the SFCC parking lot.
Twenty feet away, tailgater Nathan Manos saw a bright future as he looked forward to watching a Shadow lineup that included college and high school players from throughout the Spokane area.
“This will give the kids someone to emulate and look up to,” said Manos, who didn’t play the game as a youth but said he enjoys watching the game for its own sake. His daughter, Isabel, is a Shadow youth player.
For Peter Ostrovsky, the president of the EPLWA, a high-level product on the field will beget more talent in the future.
“Our goal is to develop that ‘hometown’ soccer culture,” said Ostrovsky, who believes that local youth programs “are critical to the growth of the game.”
The Shadow drew a big cheer in the 12th minute of play, when former University High star Mikey Ramos sent a through ball down the right side to Gonzaga midfielder Nick Hamer.
“We had a good combo up top, and I was lucky to put the ball past the keeper,” Hamer said.
But the Hammers scored twice on free kicks, in the 14th and 64th minutes – goals that Brown termed “probably soft – we have to be sharper on those.”
That will come with time, said Hamer, adding that “We’re just getting together for the first time, so we’re going to have our ups and downs in the game.”
Brown said he was pleased that the Shadow battled to the end and “created a lot of chances.”
And more importantly, a better chance for the future of soccer in Spokane.