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Sunday, April 5, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington Voices

Spokane-area youth soccer clubs won’t merge

Unification plans fall apart; SYSA severs ties to state group

When Washington State Youth Soccer Association approached Spokane soccer clubs last fall and asked them to figure out a way to merge into one big local association, the intention was that unifying programs in the Spokane area would benefit the players. One Spokane soccer association would be more successful, competitively and financially, than several different ones that were fighting among themselves over boundary disputes and allegations that some were fishing players.

The merger request from WSYSA sparked turmoil among Spokane clubs, and so far the outcome is nowhere near what was expected.

On Monday the gloves came off when Mike Keenan, president of the Shadow club’s board of directors, posted an announcement on its website alleging that Spokane Youth Sports Association has abandoned the Shadow and wants to charge the club for use of its name after backing out of a verbal agreement reached two weeks ago.

The Shadow, based in Spokane, is Eastern Washington’s leading premier soccer club and has operated under the Spokane Youth Sports Association umbrella.

“SYSA verbally accepted operational and licensing agreements with the newly formed Inland Empire Youth Soccer Club – formed by the Shadow, Sabers, Breakers, Scotties, and Storm FC. These agreements would have aligned recreational soccer with our unified select and premier soccer together in Spokane to create consistent and clear playing opportunities for all kids. Things changed dramatically on May 4 when the SYSA board of directors changed their minds and chose to affiliate with U.S. Club Soccer and abandon discussions with our Spokane clubs and IEYSA,” Keenan wrote.

Not so fast, said SYSA board president Frank Tombari.

“We never accepted anything, nothing was finalized,” Tombari said. “From the beginning, part of the discussion was to charge $5 per player for using the Shadow name, and we were talking about revenue sharing for tournaments and camps.”

Tombari said the two organizations couldn’t agree on a daily operational agreement; therefore, a licensing agreement didn’t make much sense.

“The two have to go together,” Tombari said, adding that the Shadow and IEYSA was pushing for a quick decision.

That’s why SYSA hurried up and offered a two-year licensing agreement to IEYSA asking for $5 per registered player and camp and tournament participant.

Jim Wilson, president of IEYSA and general manager of the Shadow, said in an e-mail that if IEYSA agreed to pay the fee the association would be subsidizing other SYSA endeavors, including a competing soccer program.

“I do not believe it is appropriate for Shadow youth soccer players to pay $5 for every player in our organization and receive no reciprocal service from SYSA in return,” Wilson wrote. “I do not understand SYSA’s motivations for this decision, but I personally am very disturbed by it. It hurts soccer playing families in our community and that is just not right.”

Keenan writes in the statement that the Shadow will now consider changing its name.

This winter, IEYSA briefly considered joining the Rush – a club based in Denver, Colo. – but there is already one Rush club in Washington, on the West Side. The Rush usually only allows one club in each state, so the idea was dropped.

“We are just confused,” the SYSA’s Tombari said. “Two months ago they were ready to change their name and drop us – now they say they want the Shadow name. There’s just been too much going on in soccer. We need a cooling off period to get ourselves together.”

SYSA’s board also decided to seek affiliation with U.S. Club Soccer last week and sever its ties to Washington State Youth Soccer Association.

Keenan writes that the SYSA made that decision, “with the knowledge we could not follow them as our kids deserve to play in the highest and most organized soccer leagues in the state, whether that is the Player Development League or the District VI league, both of which fall under Washington Youth Soccer. (Sole members of U.S. Club Soccer cannot play in these leagues.) It was SYSA’s right to choose this direction, but it showed no concern for the almost 2,000 select and premier soccer playing kids in our area.”

Since 2000, Keenan writes that the Shadow has paid close to $250,000 in players’ fees to SYSA.

Some soccer coaches and parents have complained that these fees go to cover other sports under SYSA’s umbrella instead of staying with the soccer clubs.

“We don’t take the money and put it into other programs, but that’s the argument the soccer programs have always had,” said Tombari. “We have never run any of our sports to make any significant amount of money – they break even at best. The years they don’t we use money from our bingo operation and from our foundation to cover the difference.”

IEYSA now has 800 members and is still growing, Keenan wrote.

Tombari said he hopes the new club is successful.

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