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Strong contingent of area talent leads unbeaten Spokane Shadow in National Premier Soccer League playoffs

UPDATED: Fri., July 6, 2018, 10:07 p.m.

The Spokane Chiefs, Indians and … Shadow?

The local hockey and baseball teams have strong followings. The Chiefs pack the Spokane Arena for Western Hockey League games and the Indians of the Northwest League have Avista Stadium, one of the top minor league baseball stadiums in the country.

The Spokane Shadow are undefeated this season, yet they are overshadowed by the more popular and accessible hockey and baseball teams even though their roster is peppered with more Spokane-area athletes than the other two teams combined. Among them are former college players at Gonzaga and Whitworth, along with Mead and Sandpoint high school standouts.

The Shadow (7-0-5) will host FCM Portland (6-2-4) at 7 p.m. today at Spokane Falls Community College in the West Region quarterfinal of the National Premier League Soccer playoffs. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for youth, the same price as regular-season games.

The previous three matchups produced a Spokane win and two ties.

“Every game we have had against them has been close, and it will be nice to see how our team handles the pressure and how the challenge of traveling along with the pressure of a playoff game (affects Portland),” Shadow head coach Mike Pellicio said.

Two players who are perfect examples of homegrown talents are Karl Muelheims and Jake Levine. A graduate of Whitworth, Muelheims went to St. George’s. Levine was a Central Valley Bear and just finished up his freshman season at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho.

Both played on Shadow youth club teams throughout their developmental stages and are important pieces on this team.

“We have a very strong connection to the city,” Pellicio said. “Our roster for Saturday, I venture to guess that eight players on the roster will have come through Spokane Shadow club.”

For the spectator who might not love the idea of watching 90 minutes of soccer, the Shadow have a remedy for any worry.

“We play attacking soccer,” Pellicio said. “What people would describe, especially during the World Cup, is the negative aspects of soccer, which is it could be boring at times. Or that the players roll around in pain every time they get touched. You’re not going to see that from our players.”

One of the more interesting aspects of the team is the roster construction. The first team is in constant flux. Last weekend for Hoopfest a few players made commitments to play basketball. This opened up opportunities for the U-23 players – the team below the top-flight squad – to contribute. But it also makes the selection of the team a bit more difficult for first-year head coach Pellicio.

“It is nice because we have (depth) more so than others,” Pellicio said. “If we are missing a player, it isn’t really that big of a deal. If we are missing four players, we can handle it. We have strength in depth that really helps.”

Levine worked his way up quickly from the U-23s after bagging two goals against Tri-Cities. After moving up to the first team, he scored a hat trick in June against the Kitsap Pumas, last season’s Northwest Conference champions.

“For us, we build ourselves on a commitment model, so you have to buy in to the program, not just the team or the league,” Pellicio said. “So that means if you get selected for the first team, then you’re going to work hard. If you get selected for the U-23s, which is essentially a reserve team of ours, then we expect you to go play even if you think you are the fourth-best player in the group. We have a style of play, we want you to have style on the ball and take risks. Believe in yourself and your teammates.”

Muelheims has done everything he can to make all the games and practices, using power naps to stay upright. Twice in recent memory his work as a registered nurse has thrown a wrench in his sleeping and soccer schedule. Working late in the night to early in the morning, Muelheims has played on three hours of sleep and worked up to and after games.

But that is the byproduct of keeping his competitive juices flowing.

Muelheims and Levine both praised their Shadow coaches throughout their time in the program. At all levels, they feel the coaches care and want them to succeed, showing up early for practice and staying late to work 1-on-1.

“They want to make sure you not only have a good time, but a productive time,” Levine said. “They want to make you the best soccer player that you can be. I have never been in a club where every single coach I went through in an organization cared so much about me.”

The players will be competing in their first postseason within the NPSL after playing in the Evergreen Premier League the previous three seasons.

“We’re stoked,” Muelheims said. “The reason we are in first is because we have played better than everyone else all year, and that starts from our intensity at practice. And the reason we are excited for this weekend is because we can advance to the next round and play other teams outside of our conference.”

“We just need to go out there and show them what we can do,” Levine said. “We just need to execute it properly.”


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