Varsity Extra

Idaho clubs trying to close the gap at Far West Regional soccer

Idaho Youth Soccer President Bill Taylor knows the numbers don’t look impressive. But he begs to differ.

Since 2009, only four Idaho youth club soccer teams reached the regional final out of 96 U12-U19 boys and girls tournaments. No team in Idaho history has won a regional title. And only one, the Boise Nationals U-15 girls in 2013, qualified for the national tournament as a wildcard.

But with the variety of obstacles soccer in Idaho faces, he maintains Idaho more than holds its own as the Simplot Sports Complex hosts the 2015 US Youth Soccer Far West Regional Championships this week.

“Idaho has done very well considering the size of the state we are,” said Taylor, who also coaches the U-13 boys and assistant coaches the U-17 boys for the Boise Nationals. “We’re considered a small state. In our region, the dominant force is (California) South, which has millions of kids playing. We have, on average, 15-20,000 kids playing.

“So when you put it in the context of the number of players we have to pull from and how well we do at regionals, I think we overachieve year to year.”

Idaho competes in Region IV in the US Youth Soccer structure with 10 other states: Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii. California is split into northern and southern regions, and the state won 12 of the 16 regional titles last season.

Taylor points out the much larger population base the California teams have to draw players from. And because the state hosts so many more players, it doesn’t have to travel to find top-flight competition.

Meanwhile, he said an Idaho player has to fork over at least $3,000-4,000 a year in travel expenses just to find challenging opponents.

“Geographic isolation is tough thing to overcome as a state,” Taylor said. “It requires, unfortunately, money. The teams that I coach, we have to travel in order to get the level of competition to meet a Cal South, a Cal North, a Washington team that have all of those resources right near by.

“They get the games week in and week out. We have to pour in tremendous resources to do that, and the kids and parents have been willing to make that commitment.”

FC Nova, a club based in Meridian, has taken a similar route, entering its girls clubs into the Elite Clubs National League, where they travel around the Northwest and Intermountain West in search of other top-flight clubs.

Without competition it faces in that league, FC Nova Director of Coaching Eric Simmonsen said Idaho clubs don’t face the level of talent they need to catch up to the clubs from California.

“The toughest thing is we play against groups that play in regional leagues, national leagues, things like that, year round,” Simmonsen said. “This type of environment (regional tournament) for them is a routine environment — getting results, a results-oriented environment. A lot of the local leagues we play in, as good as they are, they are not like that.”

Taylor said Idaho clubs are closing that gap on California and Washington.

He pointed to a handful of clubs with a chance to make a run this weekend — the Boise Nationals U-17 boys team, FC Nova’s U-14 girls club and the combined Nova-Nationals U-19 girls squad.

And he said any club capable of winning a regional championship against teams from California is capable of bringing home a national title.

“It’s a trial by fire,” Taylor said. “We get closer and closer each year. Eventually we’ll do that. And when we do, I think we have a good shot at winning it all.”

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