Pumas expand with international date

The Kitsap Pumas soccer franchise hopes next July’s international friendly match with European club Port Vale at Bremerton Memorial Stadium will attract more fans to the young team, which is in its third year of operation.  - File photo
The Kitsap Pumas soccer franchise hopes next July’s international friendly match with European club Port Vale at Bremerton Memorial Stadium will attract more fans to the young team, which is in its third year of operation.
— image credit: File photo

The Kitsap Pumas franchise started with a few laptops, desk chairs and lights in an old vacant building two years ago, and now the young soccer team is on the verge of playing a European soccer club in Bremerton.

Pumas Executive Director Ben Pecora remembers the early days of the team, when he started work with Kitsap owner Robin Waite of the former Seattle Sounders developmental club. The tandem have since upgraded their operations with an indoor team.

The Pumas announced last month that they will host the Port Vale Football Club of the English Second Division in an international friendly match on July 19 at Bremerton Memorial Stadium. It’s a first for the Pumas, who planned on scheduling an international match since its inception.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to test ourselves against a high-level English team, that’s potentially Division I, and see how we’ve progressed,” Waite said. “It’s going to decide whether we can compete, and if we can, then that indicates our level of play has increased significantly over the last couple of years.”

Port Vale will also compete with the North Sound Sea Wolves, Tacoma Tide and Victoria Highlanders in July as part of the “Summer 2011 North American Tour.” The arrangements makes the trans-Atlantic trip feasible for the English team. He said the team tried to schedule an international match last year, but the plans failed in negotiations.

The Pumas will pay an appearance fee to play Port Vale, while other trip expenses are negotiated.

Port Vale’s upcoming tour will reveal a lot about the Northwest soccer scene, which could send a message to Europe, Waite said. Kitsap, North Sound, Tacoma and Victoria all compete in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference in the United Soccer League Premier Development League.

“If we all do well, it’s going to send shockwaves into England,” he added. “It will let them know that if a PDL club can take them on and do well, there’s good stuff going on here.”

The Pumas hope the Port Vale match will expose their individual talents to international scouts looking for American talent. The Puma franchise has international players, including Tye Perdido of Guam and Greg Miley of England, but the upcoming Port Vale match could allow Kitsap’s players to compete on a larger international stage.

“The guys we’ve brought over here have been at least as good, or better than the majority of the players we’ve seen,” Pecora said. “The mentality rubs off on our guys. The rest of the world is starting to realize America is a good place for cheap talent, and if we do well against a team like this, it will provide opportunities for guys here.”

Kitsap center midfielder Nik Besagno is entering his second season with the club and said the team is ecstatic about the Port Vale match. Besagno, 21, was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2005 Major League Soccer SuperDraft when he was 16. He said European soccer was the only thing he watched in his teenage years, and he’s ready to seize the moment this summer.

“Anytime you get a chance to play a team like that, it’s awesome,” he said. “It’s nice to have a chance to see how you stack up against teams all over the world. It’s like we’re proving ourselves. Just because we’re not in the MLS, we can still play good soccer.”

Besagno also said the team is growing each year, and the scheduled match with Port Vale is an indicator of the club’s outreach to international competition. If the Pumas can match the Seattle Sounders FC with international dates, anything is possible for Kitsap, he said.

“It’s a great way for us to get our name out there because we’re looking promising for the future,” he added. “The players are up to the task, the organization is doing its part, so I think it will bring good things to the program by getting their name out there so people know who we are.”

Pecora hopes their match with Port Vale will spark an attendance increase that’s needed for Waite’s next venture - a new stadium. The team currently plays at Bremerton Memorial Stadium, but Waite expressed interest in building their own stadium at the location of now-closed East Bremerton High School. He said a new stadium will regenerate the area.

Pecora said the Port Vale match could be the difference maker in attracting more fans for the upcoming 2011 season.

“If the vision were truly realized, I think it would be the premier sports facility in the whole region,” he added. “It would give this area something to be really proud of.”

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