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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Shadow have sights set on first

Chris Brown Staff writer

The Spokane Shadow, coming off a 14-2-2 season, a Northwest Division soccer championship, and returning 14 of last season’s 22 players, have some clear goals in mind as they celebrate their 10th anniversary.

“We expect no less than first place,” All-Western Conference midfielder Paul Johnson said at the team’s media day Tuesday. “Our goal is to win league, that’s always a given. We want to go further in the playoffs than we have.”

The playoffs are where the Shadow have struggled. Three times in four years under head coach Stuart Saunders, the Shadow have reached the postseason three times and have lost in the conference semifinals each time.

“Twice in the three years I’ve been here we’ve lost to teams we could have beaten,” said Johnson. “We don’t want to look ahead, but we want to get over the hurdle of the first round of the playoffs. It’s definitely in the back of our heads.”

There are some factors working in the Shadow’s favor as they prepare for the 7 p.m. season opener Saturday against the Yakima Reds at Joe Albi Stadium, including the fact that Saunders’ teams have never won less than 11 games since he took over in 2000. Additionally, the returning players bring with them more than two-thirds of the team’s offense from last season.

Scoring goals is always the key, and losing former Gonzaga University striker Jason Kuska (nine goals and 21 points, both team highs) doesn’t help. But Saunders is confident this year’s squad will be able to pick up the slack.

“The struggle was always if we would score, or if we would score, how many,” Saunders said. “We were up and down in terms of offense last season. But I think we have good firepower. Garth Cummings (a Ferris grad) scored 10 goals a few years back, and we have Tim Seely back who can also score goals.”

Included among the returners (14 is a relatively normal turnover rate) is All-Conference goal keeper Shaun Kalnasy, who split time with the University of Washington’s Chris Eylander last season but figures to be the featured goalie this year.

“Kalnasy will be the main guy to be counted on,” Saunders said. “It’s nice to have someone an experienced guy coming back. He had a good season (last year) with Loyola Marymount and is not afraid to lead from the back. He is very calm about how he goes about communicating with the players.”

Also returning are GU’s Robert Anderson, Mike Herzog and John Palladino (a Central Valley grad), Washington’s Evan Cummings (from Ferris) and former Husky Troy Ready, a Mead grad who has played with the Shadow since 1998.

Providing much-needed depth are high school standouts Brett Hite (University High), Skye Henderson (Lewis and Clark), Avery and Austin Washington (Ferris), and Kyle Wartz (Shadle Park).

“The last couple of years we’ve had five or so high school kids,” Saunders said. “We like to get guys in and get them playing if we can. Sometimes they can’t make a huge contribution in the first or second year, but we’re hoping all of them can have some contribution.”

Hite, who finished tied for second in the Greater Spokane League in scoring with 15 goals, will join Cummings at UW in the fall. Entering his third year with the Shadow, Hite is one high-schooler who Saunders is expecting to make an impact.

“It’s Hite’s time to step up and be counted on,” Saunders said. “He has experience and we’re looking for goals from him.”

Another goal for the Shadow is to get off to a quick start on the season and qualify for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

As a member of the United Soccer Leagues’ Premier Development League, the Shadow are eligible every year to participate in the Open Cup, which is recognized as U.S. Soccer’s National Championship.

The Cape Cod Crusaders, as winners of the PDL title last season, earn an automatic berth in the Open Cup. The other seven PDL spots will be determined based on four regular-season games versus conference opponents. In recent years, this has been the first four games of the season.

As the Shadow have only been practicing with a full team for about a week, qualifying for the Open Cup is a tough task.

“It’s difficult in the beginning because a lot of guys come in on short notice,” Saunders said. “The Division I guys aren’t available until May 1, so there’s initially a feeling-out process, but that’s no different than everyone else.”

Adding to the intrigue this season is the size of the Shadow’s division. With only four teams in the Northwest Division — Spokane, Yakima, Cascade and Abbotsford — teams play each other early (the Shadow will have played their whole division at least once by May 22) and often (Spokane plays Yakima six times, Cascade and Abbotsford five each).

Seeing the same opponents over and over can be both a blessing and a curse.

“In the Northwest Division, because it’s a small division, you know what you’re up against,” Saunders said. “I don’t want to say it becomes boring, but maybe routine because after the first game, you know what to prepare for every time.”

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