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Pumas clinch division, ink radio deal
When longtime friends Robin Waite and Ben Pecora launched the county's first fully professional soccer franchise last September, the duo hoped to transform Kitsap County into a soccer hotbed.
Waite, the owner, and Pecora, the executive director, have since built the franchise from the ground up, spreading a countywide youth initiative that includes summer camps in North Kitsap, Bremerton and Bainbridge Island while also putting a winning product on the field.
"It's gone well on almost every front," Pecora said. "We are really pleased. The community has been fantastic, businesses have been fantastic, the fans have been fantastic. You've got to attribute a lot of that to the guys on the field."
With its first anniversary still two months way, the club has secured the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League Northwest Division title. The division-clinching win was by a 1-0 count last weekend over the Abbotsford Mariners.
Undefeated in league play at 11-0-3, the club is guaranteed a first-round bye in the PDL playoffs. It can secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with two wins to close the season.
The Pumas' only loss this year was in the U.S. Open Cup, 3-0, to the Portland Timbers of the USL First Division, to which the Pumas eventually hope to belong.
“I'm pleased for the players,” coach John Wedge said. “They've worked so hard and they've played as a team. They deserve it.”
On and off the field, the Pumas appear to be accomplishing everything they set out to do. The club is second in the 68-team PDL in total points with 36, trailing only the Ottawa Fury (37), who have played 15 games to the Pumas' 14. It also is second in the PDL in goal differential, holding a plus-27 goal advantage (35 to 8). Only the Fury (plus-38) holds a better goal margin.
Goalkeeper Dustyn Brim has registered six shutouts in the past 12 games. And the Pumas, one of three PDL teams yet to suffer a league loss, are tied with the Fury for fewest goals allowed.
“Our back line always stays solid,” said Alex Megson, who assisted Stephen Phillips on the Pumas' lone and game-deciding goal against Abbotsford. “There's not a game this year where I can say they didn't have a good game.”
Wedge has managed a talented lineup that includes players from France and England, balancing skill with chemistry to shape the club into a cohesive unit. One of only four clubs in the PDL to pay its players, Puma players earn $1,000 a month plus $100 per victory.
Pecora said both he and Waite would like to see attendance figures climb — the early season goal was to draw 3,000 fans per game — and with the playoffs approaching, that, too, could happen. Single-game attendance figures have been as low as about 800 and as high as 2,200.
"I think with the intensity of the playoffs, you'll see that begin to sort itself out," Pecora said.
This week, the franchise inked a deal with the regional broadcast radio station KITZ AM 1400, which will air live game matches beginning Sunday and a coaches show from 6 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays.
Longtime play-by-play broadcaster Chris Hester and former Major League Soccer player Wade Webber will announce each match, and the coaches show will feature game analysis, special guests and a question-and-answer session between listeners and on-air personalities.
“Soccer in Seattle and the Puget Sound region has been an institution for over three decades, and to have a local professional team is a testament to the popularity and longevity of the world’s sport – right here in Kitsap,” said program director Conn Williamson. “We’re proud to host this fantastic new team that represents us so well.”
KITZ, which has affiliate stations in Portland, Spokane, Olympia and Seattle, is a news/talk station. Williamson said it was "a no-brainer" to add the Pumas to the station menu.
For the club, the partnership means not only additional, widespread coverage but also indicates there is Pumas' interest beyond Kitsap.
“We’ve been working on a deal like this for quite some time,” Pecora said. “As with nearly every choice we’ve made as an organization, Kitsap-based entities come first. So when we came together with Conn and KITZ, it was a great match. This is one broadcaster that is committed to our community and one that is committed to us.”