Soccer

Idaho’s top soccer clubs merged a year ago. Now they’re producing records, disappointments

Avery McBride dribbles through the Billings United defense on the way leading the Boise Thorns’ U-14 girls soccer team to a 3-0 victory on Wednesday at the Far West Regional Championships.
Avery McBride dribbles through the Billings United defense on the way leading the Boise Thorns’ U-14 girls soccer team to a 3-0 victory on Wednesday at the Far West Regional Championships. kjones@idahostatesman.com

Two of Idaho’s most dominant youth soccer clubs merged last summer to better compete at the regional and national levels. But a year later, that merger has produced mixed results during its first major test.

Four Boise Thorns girls soccer teams (U-15, U-16, U-18 and U-19) advanced past the group stage at this week’s U.S. Youth Soccer Far West Regional Championships, the most from Idaho in the past 10 years, as far back as available records date.

Three of those teams (U-15, U-16 and U-19) also won their group at East Boise’s Simplot Sports Complex, another first in recent history for Idaho girls soccer.

But none of the Boise Timbers boys teams reached Friday’s quarterfinal round, a disappointment for the club, said Gavin Kempe, the technical director for the boys side of the organization.

“We put ourselves in positions to score,” Kempe said. “But unfortunately across the board, we couldn’t find the back of the net. It gives us a target moving forward that even though we can play with these guys, we’ve got to raise the bar.”

Only one Idaho boys team advanced to the quarterfinals — the U-19 Boise Cutthroats, an offshoot of a local semi-pro team founded to help combat the rising cost of youth sports.

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Natasja Davis takes aim and scores the U-15 Boise Thorns’ third goal in a 3-0 win over Billings United on Wednesday at the Far West Regional Championships. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

NATIONALS, NOVA MERGE

The Boise Nationals, Idaho’s most decorated boys soccer club, and FC Nova, the state’s top girls soccer organization, joined last summer into a single club under the Boise Timbers-Thorns banner. The boys teams use the Timbers nickname, and the girls the Thorns.

The plan relied on using resources and training from the Portland professional soccer teams to improve coaching and player development in the Treasure Valley. Those coaches then would no longer have to divide the region’s talent pool. Instead, they could unite it and form the best teams possible to compete outside the state and at tournaments like Far West, which includes champions from 13 Western states.

The clubs previously combined forces in one-off situations, most notably a U-19 girls team that won the only Far West regional title in state history in 2015. That club then went on to finish second at the national tournament, falling in penalty kicks.

The Boise Timbers and Thorns dominated the Idaho state championships last month, winning 12 of the 14 titles. But translating state-level trophies into regional-level success against Western powerhouses remains a challenge.

“It’s definitely a new avenue doing a comprehensive program,” said Eric Simmonsen, the director of coaching for the club. “We showed it at the State Cup level. But it’s always baby steps. This is not like venture capital where Samsung buys Dell, and you can just make more money and product. You’re investing in humans and people.”

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Kydra Lyons (8), celebrates the U-15 Boise Thorns’ first goal Wednesday. The Thorns rolled through their group, winning every game by a combined score of 8-1. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

BOYS LAGGING BEHIND GIRLS

Simmonsen and Kempe both cautioned it will take more than a year to fully integrate the Nationals and Nova. The Nova girls side remained largely the same beside a few coaching changes. But adding Nova’s boys to the Nationals’ boys teams forced coaches to spend much of the season evaluating talent instead of building teams to get results.

Kempe pointed to the Les Bois and Boise Capitals merger that formed FC Nova in 2010. Results didn’t come immediately. But nine years later, the girls side has grown into a regional threat in all age groups.

The U-15 and U-16 Thorns steamrolled through their groups, winning every game. And the U-18 and U-19 girls both went 2-0-1, giving the club several teams capable of making a weekend run.

The quarterfinals start Friday, followed by the semifinals Saturday and championship matches Sunday. Champions advance to the national tournament July 23-28 outside of Kansas City.

“For us being Boise, Idaho — or just Idaho in general — we always kind of get lumped in with Montana and Wyoming as the little brother to the region. Everyone was looking forward to an easy draw playing Idaho,” Kempe said.

“I would say this perception isn’t changing. It has changed. Talking with other clubs, it’s now, ‘Shoot, we have to play Idaho.’”

Adding to the Boise Timbers’ obstacles were some unlucky draws. The regional tournament placed three of its five boys teams in six-team groups instead of the traditional four-team groups. Only the top two advance, making their road to the knockout stage more difficult.

For example, the U-17 boys went 2-1-0 to earn six points, typically enough to advance in a four-team group. But not in their six-team group.

The U-16 Chicas girls club received an even tougher fate. They went 2-0-1 in their group, earning seven points. But two teams in their six-team group won all three contests, eliminating Chicas.

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Kyndra Lyons of the U-15 Boise Thorns girls soccer team dribbles past the Billings United defense Wednesday at the Far West Regional Championships. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

STATE TITLES NO LONGER ENOUGH

The merger of Idaho’s two most successful clubs led to plenty of detractors. But it also changed Idaho’s viewpoint at tournaments like Far West.

Gone are the days of settling for state titles and celebrating a stray team that can compete at regionals. The Boise Timbers and Boise Thorns expect to represent the state deep into the tournament year in and year out.

None of the Timbers’ boys teams may have advanced to the knockout round. But they all held their own against the West’s best teams, and none served as roadkill to California juggernauts either.

“Forever, we were always happy winning State Cup. That was always the pinnacle,” Kempe said. “Now as a club and an organization, our pinnacle is past State Cup. It’s competing at these events.

“The merger has given us the ability to do that. We’ve had pockets in the past with good teams. But never top to bottom.”

The Zierenberg family travels from Twin Falls to Boise three times a week so their children can play soccer with the Boise Timbers/Thorns club. While the kids practice and compete, parents Jocelyn and Mike help with the club, coach and referee.

IDAHO QUARTERFINAL SCHEDULE

Five Idaho youth soccer teams have advanced past the group stage and into the quarterfinals at the U.S. Youth Soccer Far West Regional Championships. All games are Friday at East Boise’s Simplot Sports Complex.

  • U-15 Boise Thorns girls vs. Leahi (Hawaii), 2 p.m.
  • U-16 Boise Thorns girls vs. Santa Clara (Cal North), 8 a.m.
  • U-18 Boise Thorns girls vs. Capital FC Timbers (Oregon), 10 a.m.
  • U-19 Boise Thorns girls vs. Legends FC (Cal South), 10 a.m.
  • U-19 Boise Cutthroats boys vs. Strikers FC South Bay (Cal South), noon
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