ELLIOTT: Back to one big soccer club in Cd’A area

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In an effort to keep up with the rest of the Northwest, the club soccer landscape is changing a little bit in the northern part of the state.

No more North Idaho Inferno.

Same with the Sting Timbers FC.

AFTER MONTHS of discussion, the clubs decided to merge starting with the 2018-19 cycle, which begins in June.

“There’s been two clubs in the area for way too long,” Sting Timbers director Mike Thompson said. “Over the last six months, we’ve began a dialogue to being to pool our resources, expertise and players for the soccer community. With more kids, that means more opportunity and kids playing on the appropriate teams. And that’s going to lead to a better soccer experience for all those involved, as well as continuing to build life skills.”

The move also allows for players that want to compete at a higher level to play with like players. Likewise, those that are just looking for a brisk run on the field with friends can do that as well.

“We want those that are in it to play at the highest level to have a chance to play at that level,” said Rick Mattis, president of the Sting Timbers FC. “And those that are in it to play with their friends can play with their friends. It really gives them a chance to play.”

The North Idaho Inferno, the former Academy and North Idaho Thunder has players from the Post Falls, Rathdrum and Spirit Lake area. The Lakeland Nighthawks merged with the North Idaho Thunder a few years ago.

“The opportunity for our kids is great,” Inferno FC president Felix McGowan said. “It’s one of those conversations that doesn’t happen overnight. When we merged a few years ago, we put together a group to create more opportunities for kids. We found that if you don’t have enough players at a certain age group, you’re mixing teams with players of different skill levels. We found that to survive, we need to put our forces together. As we’re becoming more competitive at the state level, both us and the Sting were competing for the same resources. When you’re competing against each other, you’re fielding teams that aren’t complete.”

Now, the program can join forces to compete against the likes of those from the Boise area.

“With Boise, they have a lot more kids,” McGowan said. “If we continue to compete with our limited resources, we’re never going to be club relevant. We’ll have good teams at certain ages, but at other ages, there’s holes. If we can put these things together, then our kids become relevant from young to old and they’ll flourish. This gives us a chance to put like-minded kids together with kids in their skill sets all the way across.”

Something that hasn’t always been the case with the programs doing separate things.

“Right now, there’s kids that get caught in the middle,” Thompson said. “Sometimes they’ll get dragged to tournaments they don’t necessarily want to go to. Or you’ve got a team that’s cool with just playing locally, and you’re just holding them back. Our schedule will benefit both groups of players.”

The Sting has an estimated 415 kids that play at a competitive level, with another 250 in the developmental program. The Inferno has 300 players total.

“Every person involved with soccer, from club coaches to the parents, are going to benefit from this,” Thompson said. “We’re just trying to get the right kids playing with the right teams. Hopefully that will filter into what we want it to and be a boost for all the high school programs in the area.”

STING DIRECTOR of coaching Matt Ruchti has been the head coach of the Lake City High girls program for the past 15 seasons.

“I think it’s going to be great,” Ruchti said. “For a community like ours, to put our resources together, I think it’s going to bring out the best in our coaches as well, and we’re going to need more coaches. Being able to go through that process with North Idaho Inferno, it kind of invigorates other people and you can get different ideas. As far as being able to coach the best North Idaho kids on one team, that’s what we always want to do. It opens up a lot of different levels that we can take the club into different directions. We’ve had the chance to take some teams to different places on a regional level. Now, we’ll be able to offer them some opportunities that they haven’t had before, or been ready for. It’s an exciting time.”

Ruchti believes the quality of the area high school programs could benefit as well.

“It’s going to make those programs better,” Ruchti said. “Now you know what players are going to be doing outside the high school world — what kind of training they’ll get. It’s going to make Lake City’s program better, Post Falls’ program better and Coeur d’Alene’s program better. All the way to Moscow and Sandpoint, it’s got the chance to make those programs better. And that’s what we’re excited about.

“After this, the high school teams, they’ll go back to knocking each others’ teeth in,” McGowan said. “But after the game, they’re shaking hands and come back as a club to take that next step. When Mike and I grew up, the high schools was really the focus of the recruiting, but that’s changing. We provide enough interest for the coaches to come back to the club to find other kids, so there’s a value in working together. In bigger cities, some schools are doing away with high school programs. We don’t wish that here, and don’t want that. But it’s a reality. For our region, it’s a chance to get these kids to bigger cities to get noticed by colleges. It’s a benefit for all the kids in the area.”

UNDER THE new combined club, teams will be known as Timbers North FC (boys) and Thorns North FC (girls). Board positions in the new club are still to be determined.

“We’re very excited for it,” Thompson said. “I think both clubs are primed for a great spring season. Looking to the future, which is June, we’re excited for the 2018-19 cycle to begin. It’s going to be fun. There’s going to be hurdles, there’s hurdles with everything. But we’re excited and we’ll figure it out.”

“We’ve put together the teams for the right reasons,” McGowan said. “We’re not doing these things to build and empire. It’s for what’s right for the kids in this community.”

Jason Elliott is a sports writer for the Coeur d’Alene Press. He can be reached by telephone at (208) 664-8176, Ext. 2020 or via email at jelliott@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter @JECdAPress.

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