From trash to treasure: Matt Raney’s soccer journey

Raney, a member of the storied local soccer family, is using his sport to help vulnerable kids.

Matt Raney stands in front of a group of children in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Africa in 2011. The Raney family began their nonprofit organization, Adventure Soccer, in 2003 in Snohomish County, and they expanded their work into Africa in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Matt Raney)

Matt Raney stands in front of a group of children in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Africa in 2011. The Raney family began their nonprofit organization, Adventure Soccer, in 2003 in Snohomish County, and they expanded their work into Africa in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Matt Raney)

Many athletes view their journey after high school and onto a college team as a high point in their sports career.

Not for Matt Raney.

His two years on the Seattle Pacific University (SPU) men’s soccer team were the lowest points in his life, but those days eventually led him out of darkness and into a new light where he changed not only himself but those around him.

Raney attended the university from 1990-1991, playing under Cliff McCrath. Succumbing to various addictions during that time led Raney to a pit, which had consequences, and the result of his actions took Raney inside McCrath’s office where he had to drop out and vacate his position on the team.

If Raney had stayed on course, he would have joined his teammates in lifting the national championship trophy in 1993, his senior year.

When Raney’s kids, Kieren and Connor, were young, they didn’t play organized soccer. They would kick the ball in the backyard, but Raney didn’t want them involved in the sport because of what “soccer still represented — those things that I wanted to run from — all of that shame and regret, all of the ego and pride.

“I had to learn from those (decisions). I had to grow,” Raney said. “Those things didn’t define me, they in fact made me a better man.”

Several years after SPU, Raney began having dreams of coaching soccer. Not wanting to be associated with soccer due to his past, Raney realized those dreams were a “catalyst that brought change, that fresh start, through a new life in Jesus.

“In those dreams, I saw myself coaching kids. … Those dreams started me on a new journey. … Those dreams awakened in me my love for the game.”

In 2003, Raney and his wife Kymm started a nonprofit organization called Adventure Soccer. It began in Snohomish with camps to expose kids to soccer while also helping them off the streets and into the helping hands of community leaders involved with churches, YMCAs, etc. Over time, the organization expanded to Sultan, Everett, Lake Stevens, Mountlake Terrace and other parts of the state. And in 2010, inspired by Raney’s dreams, they decided to take their efforts abroad to Eswatini, Africa with the same mission of assisting vulnerable children and their families while also sharing the game of soccer.

Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, borders South Africa and Mozambique and has a population of 1.1 million. However, the nation has the highest HIV rate in the world. According to UNAIDS, the prevalence rate among adults ages 15-49 was nearly 26% in 2022, while the prevalence rate among boys and girls younger than 15 was approximately 16%.

As a result of the epidemic, thousands of children have been orphaned. Hope for Africa, an organization focused on improving the lives of the Swazi people, estimates there are more than 200,000 orphans in Eswatini, which is why the Raney family dedicates three to six months each year in the country.

“You walk into a rural village in Africa, and you have a soccer ball in your hands,” Kieren said, “you have 100 new friends.”

A few years ago, Raney was managing a camp on Casino Road in Everett where hundreds upon hundreds of kids were in attendance. During the event, Raney distributed toys made by children in Eswatini to the campers.

“As I arrived (to the camp), I got to bring out all of these beautiful creations of garbage, … the rubbish that was on the side of the road in southern Africa: soda cans, plastic bottles, wire, fencing; all of these things that had been thrown away that people said they were good for nothing,” Raney described. “These kids in Africa just scooped all that garbage, and I watched them on the sidelines on the ball fields going to work (and) weaving it all together. They made the most beautiful cars, trucks (and) toys out of this garbage, and they brought it over to show me. And in that moment in Africa, I was reminded that’s the same exact thing that God has done with the garbage in my life.”

During the camp, Raney took a break to glance over at the sideline, and he saw his former college coach Cliff McCrath standing there.

“(McCrath) walked up to me and said, ‘I’m so proud of you. You had the courage to step out and share that the lowest point in your life didn’t have to be the lowest,’” Raney said. “God uses all things for the good of those who love him, and look at what God has done. He turned all of that trash into treasure, and it was beautiful in my world. It was one of the most powerful things I had ever experienced because finally it was redemption.

“That lowest point that I felt so much guilt and shame because of the consequences of my own choices became this high point,” Raney continued. “It became a higher point than the national championship to me. … Why? Because all of the hundreds and hundreds of kids got to hear and learn from that story.”

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