Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

NWPrepsNow: Rogers soccer puttin’ it all together

The Rogers soccer players play the way they live, by making the most of every chance.

The chances have been few. The Pirates’ leading scorer spent most of his life in a refugee camp in East Africa, the goalkeeper is a Canadian whose first love was hockey, and not one player has played club-level soccer.

Then there’s the language barrier. As 18 Pirates warmed up for practice Monday afternoon, they chattered in Spanish, Somali, Arabic, Hmong, Swahili, Ukrainian, Moldovan, German and English.

“I think it’s kind of cool, really” said Hancer Juviel, a junior who spent his first 12 years in Cuba until his American-born father was able to bring him to America.

Despite the handicaps, the Pirates are one win from the State 3A tournament after making a little history last week.

On Tuesday, they beat North Central – their first postseason win in 25 years – then defeated Mt. Spokane 2-0 on Saturday for the district title.

Next up is the regional title game Tuesday night in Kennewick, where the 7-9 Pirates face Kamiakin. As usual, Rogers will be the underdog.

“They’re good on film, but anything can happen,” said senior forward Moses Ndayishimiye on Monday afternoon.

He should know. As a young boy, Ndayishimiye fled ethnic violence in his native Burundi. The next decade was in a Tanzanian refugee camp where the walls were made of mud, the roof of hay and the meals were cooked with water that was hauled from a well two miles away.

His immigration approved, he arrived in New York, “excited but scared.” Ndayishimiye lived briefly in Iowa, then moved to Spokane last year along with his older brother. He hit the ground running.

“Along with the other seniors, I’m trying to be a role model for everyone else,” said Ndayishimiye, who has 12 goals this season.

Steady progress

Until this year, most Rogers victories were moral ones – not giving up “crazy scores,” said coach Valentin Dimitrov, a Bulgarian immigrant who teaches health and fitness at nearby Regal Elementary.

Crazy scores were the norm in 2012, when Rogers gave up 65 goals in nine Greater Spokane League games – all losses. A year later, that number was down to 49, then just 35 in 2014 as Dimitrov’s defensive teaching took root. However, the only wins came in preseason play against smaller area schools.

Real progress came last year: a 41-game losing streak in GSL play ended last year with a 1-0 win over Mt. Spokane, and the Pirates conceded just 30 goals in nine league matches.

“I knew that after experiences we had last year that this year we could succeed,” said senior midfielder Abdul Muse, an ethnic Somalian. “I’ve learned to fail forward – to fail, then go forward,” Muse said with a laugh.

But before they could clean up their play on the field, Dimitrov needed to clean up their language. A 19-man roster included just one American, and some players were greeting each other with unintentional racial slurs.

“Some people thought it was funny,” Dimitrov said. “We just had a couple of meetings, brought in some alumni and we talked about what that really meant, like slavery.”

“That was very important, because now they are playing together,” Dimitrov said.

The Pirates opened the season with wins over Class 1A schools Riverside, Deer Park, Medical Lake and Lakeside before getting drubbed by eventual GSL champ Central Valley 6-1 in the first game of league play.

Painful losses followed against the top echelon of the GSL: 2-1 to Mead on a disputed penalty kick, 2-0 to both Gonzaga Prep and Lewis and Clark.

“You could tell, we were much better,” said Dimitrov, now in his 10th year with perhaps the best team in Rogers history. “Before this we had some great players, but a lot of holes. This team has skills, conditioning and tactics.”

Making history

They paid off on April 20 with a 2-1 win over Shadle Park that made the difference in putting Rogers in the postseason. A subsequent 2-0 loss to North Central was paid back with interest last week as the Pirates claimed a 3-0 win over the Indians at district.

Heavy underdogs against Mt. Spokane on Saturday, the Pirates again made the most of their chances. Outshot 18 to 6, they scored on a corner kick and a free kick. At the other end of the field, keeper Vincent St. John – the kid from Canada whom Dimitrov introduced to soccer – was diving like a hockey goalie for 13 saves.

“It’s kind of unreal right now,” St. John said after the match.

Reality looks pretty good right now. Just as the Pirates took to the field for practice Monday, the rains parted and the energy level soared.

“These drills, they’re a lot of fun,” Juviel said. “We’re all good friends.”