Ballard FC and Sounder at Heart writer Greg Van Belle recently spoke with the club about how they built their inaugural roster for the coming season.
When you build a new soccer club from scratch, each day is spent making decisions about everything from the mundane to the consequential. As Ballard FC rolled out their merchandise, held fan events, sold tickets, and released match day plans, the big question lingered: who would be taking the pitch for the inaugural season?
I recently spoke with head coach Jason Farrell about the challenges of building a roster from scratch, and how the team went about finding the right players to wear the crest this summer.
Putting a team together is far more than simply selecting the best available player at each position. There are a lot of challenges in the process. The club has to navigate league roster rules, player availability, and a limited set of resources in order to field 18 players each week from a 26 man roster.
“There is no question that building a roster from scratch, as a new club, has been challenging,” Farrell told me. “We didn’t have the opportunity to scout players through their fall college seasons so we relied on a lot of game film, college coach recommendations and our own network of players we know.”
It should be no surprise that the majority of the players on the roster have Seattle roots. This speaks to both the quality of youth and college soccer in the region and the Ballard FC coaching staff’s connections to the Pacific Northwest. With limited time to scout, Farrell and his staff had to rely on their trust of the local academies. “Local youth clubs like Seattle United, Crossfire and others have always done a tremendous job of developing young players.” Players who came through those systems a few years ago were eager to come back to play in Seattle in front of friends and family for the summer season.
Many of the players have never left, having played in local academy programs and local universities. For example, midfielder and Kirkland native Peter Kingston spent 5 years with the Seattle Sounders academy and also plays for the Redhawks of Seattle University.
One of the more seasoned players on the squad, Forward Tyler Bjork comes to Ballard FC by way of Western Washington University, Bellingham United FC, and Seattle Stars FC. When I asked Tyler about his expected role with the club, he was quick to comment in the leadership position he takes. “I love not only mentoring younger players, but trying to impact them in any positive way through my experience. The role of a veteran player is something that I completely embrace. When these guys further their careers and make it into higher leagues I will be beyond happy. I really want to help them reach new heights in any way I can.”
Bjork echoes Coach Farrell’s take on how to be successful at this level. “It is vital that we create a culture that is not only based on success, but one where players love to be.”
The unique summer-only season of USL2 allows these college players to move over to the club side for a few months after their school year ends. With the short season and even shorter training camp before the first match, bringing in college athletes with local ties gives the coaching staff a real sense of how players perform in different systems and formations. Coach Farrell acknowledges that the truncated schedule means that “implementing something overly complex that takes time to perfect isn’t necessarily the recipe for success in this league.” He and the staff are excited to take what the guys can do coming in and, as Farrell puts it, “have some nuance” that the players will be able to quickly pick up.
Surely, the coaching staff has a way they want to play, formations they prefer (though they are quite tight-lipped about exactly what those will be) but the emphasis in signing players to the roster was always on getting the best players available no matter the age or experience level.
While the bulk of the roster hails from the soccer programs of the Pacific Northwest, there were other paths onto this roster besides the academy system and college programs. Mako Makoanyane and Lesia Thetsane made their way to Ballard FC from the Kick4Life academy in Lesotho in Southern Africa. You can read more about their background and journey in a great interview with Ballard FC volunteer Casey Elkins.
One of the most exciting paths to the roster was no doubt the open tryouts the club held back in March. Four players made it through to the roster from the trials, which is an incredible footnote to this inaugural season. Midfielders Johnny Ramirez and Joe Dale, goalkeeper Cole Weaver, and defender Zane Baumgardt all impressed in the trials and worked their way onto the team.
I asked everyone I talked to for this article, from the front office to coaching staff to the players, who we should keep an eye on as the season gets started. Every one of them had the same answer: Everyone. Bjork told me that from what he has seen so far, “our team is loaded with talent.”
It will be exciting to see who stands out and how this squad works together, and if the energy from the club after their first few trainings is any indication, it is going to be a high energy, fun soccer experience for everyone.
by Greg Van Belle @gregvanbelle