Snohomish County Steelheads’ Andrew Escalante plays against Skagit Valley College’s Anthony Sotelo in a preseason game on April 20 in Mount Vernon, won by the Steelheads 1-0. Escalante, who played high school soccer at Lakewood High School, founded the Steelheads as an outlet for men to play elite soccer beyond high school and college. (Glen Moffitt / Snohomish County Steelheads photo)

Snohomish County Steelheads’ Andrew Escalante plays against Skagit Valley College’s Anthony Sotelo in a preseason game on April 20 in Mount Vernon, won by the Steelheads 1-0. Escalante, who played high school soccer at Lakewood High School, founded the Steelheads as an outlet for men to play elite soccer beyond high school and college. (Glen Moffitt / Snohomish County Steelheads photo)

Steelheads bring elite men’s soccer to Snohomish County

The semipro team played its first game in the Western Washington Premier League last Saturday.

Two years ago Andrew Escalante and Aaron Burns had a vision.

The two Snohomish County high school soccer products saw a void in the local soccer community. While the area is rife with youth and prep soccer talent, there was no local outlet for players beyond the community college, high school and under-19 levels. If adults wanted to continue playing at an elite level, they had to head somewhere else.

Escalante and Burns wanted to change that, and this spring their vision is finally being actualized in full.

The Snohomish County FC Steelheads are beginning their first season in the Western Washington Premier League, an elite men’s adult league, and the team is giving an opportunity to those — whether they’re college players looking to stay sharp during the summer or post-scholastic players who just want to continue competing — who seek a high level of competition beyond their school experiences.

The Steelheads played their inaugural WWPL game last Saturday in Tacoma, beating Tacoma Narrows 1-0 on a goal from Kamiak High School graduate Kevin Baron. Snohomish County FC’s first ever WWPL home game is against ISC Gunners of Issaquah at 4 p.m. this Saturday at Lakewood High School. Admission is $5.

Escalante, a former star at Lakewood High School, and Burns, a graduate of Snohomish High School, founded the Steelheads in 2017. Both Escalante and Burns were past their scholastic playing days, yet were still itching for the competitive soccer environment.

”We wanted to get something going in Snohomish County because it’s such a huge pool of talent in the area, and the closest semipro outdoor team was probably either in Bellingham or Seattle,” Escalante said during a recent practice at Tambark Creek Park in Bothell. “Those are two different counties, and we’re one of the biggest counties in Washington state and we were missing a team.”

It took some time for Snohomish County FC to get established. Dagi Kesim, a constant presence in the Snohomish County soccer coaching circle for nearly two decades, was brought on as head coach. Money needed to be raised for things like field time and insurance. The team spent its first two seasons without a league, being limited to friendly matches against semipro teams from around the state.

But the Steelheads acquitted themselves well in their exhibition games last season, going 4-2-1, and in the fall they were accepted into the WWPL.

The WWPL is a new semipro league, having had its first season last year. The initial season was deemed a success, and this year the league grew from seven to 11 teams, with more teams seeking to join.

Getting into a real league made a huge difference for the Steelheads in terms of player recruitment. Last year the Steelheads had about 35 players at their two-day tryouts. This year they had just one day of tryouts and 64 players attended. The current roster contains 35 players, though only 18 can be named in a matchday squad, and Snohomish County FC is considering fielding a reserve team.

“Knowing you’re in a league is such an important step,” Steelheads general manager David Falk said. “Players know they’re going to be competing and having regular games. And the soccer community is close, the players know each other from playing with or against one another in college or high school. So that really boosted our numbers.”

The roster includes players at all different stages of their soccer careers. On one end of the spectrum is defender Cade Cooke, who is just one year removed from Kamiak High School. He’s using the Steelheads as a way to stay sharp during the summer as he prepares for his sophomore season at Everett Community College.

“I was talking to my teammate at Everett (Logen Flem) and he mentioned the team, so I signed up for tryouts,” Cooke said. “I just wanted some games. It’ll definitely be good for conditioning, staying in shape and getting touches.”

On the other end is someone like midfielder Rio Alcorta. The Inglemoor High School graduate completed his career at Pacific Lutheran University, but still wanted to play.

“After PLU I didn’t play soccer for four or five months and I was getting edgy,” Alcorta said. “I wanted to play. This came around and it’s perfect for me.”

This is no Sunday league team, where players just show up for games. The Steelheads practice three times a week, and Kesim has the team in a structured 3-5-2 formation that emphasizes defense first. The roster, which is made up primarily of individuals from Snohomish County high schools, includes players currently at the NCAA Division I, Division II and Division III levels, as well as the community college level. Kesim compared the Steelheads’ level to that of a Division II or Division III college squad.

The Steelheads went undefeated in preseason games, going 1-0-2. Their goal is to finish in the top six this season, as the WWPL is branching into two divisions next year, with the top six going into the first division and the remaining five dropping into the second division as the league institutes promotion/relegation.

And after opening their season with a victory over Tacoma Narrows, a team that includes indoor professional players from the Tacoma Stars, the Steelheads are optimistic about what they can accomplish this season.

“This Snohomish team is here to play,” Escalante said.

If you have an idea for a community sports story, email Nick Patterson at npatterson@heraldnet.com.

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