Matt Pele is just a few months away from hitting the outdoor soccer pitch in Tri-Cities with FC3, the new Evergreen Premier League club that will represent the area in the statewide league that debuts in 2014. We sent Matt some questions to get everyone caught up with what the Kennewick and Western Washington University grad is planning.
Describe your youth soccer career and how it led you to want to play in college.
Matt: I had an up and down youth soccer career. I knew I was a very good player at a young age because when I was on the field playing I would always compare my abilities to the other kids I was playing against, and simply think to myself, “I’m better than all these kids,” and that wasn’t me being cocky, that was the confidence that I had in myself and in my game. It was probably around 12 years old when I started to slip a bit in terms of confidence, and development. My family had just moved from California back up here to Washington. We heard my older brother’s age group was really talented so my family made the decision to play me up a year with him, for the local club Three Rivers United. As the years went on I struggled for playing time for the various reasons you run into when it comes to any youth sport, and if I could go back and do it all over I would have dropped to my own age group earlier, but I enjoyed being part of a winning team, and we eventually went on to win a State Championship and become nationally ranked. Since we were one of the better teams in the state there were always scouts coming to look at all our players, and even though I didn’t get to play much, I did have the benefit of gaining that exposure. I guess I did enough to get a few offers, but I always dreamed of playing beyond high school and thought I would.
What were a few of your soccer highlights from your days at WWU?
When I think of highlights on the field I would have to cite my last year in general when we won the GNAC Conference for the first time in I don’t know how long, and I was named Conference Player of the Year unanimously, as well as an All-American. I had put in a lot of hard work and dedication to meeting those goals. I was sad that we were not able to make the tournament though; I missed out on that one. As a player on any team though, I think the relationships, memories, and good times spent with your teammates, are the real highlights that you carry with you and remember.
People around the state may not know that much about the soccer scene around the Tri-Cities. Can you please share what the talent level is like?
The talent level in the Tri-Cities is vastly underrated and if I were a college scout or coach I would be tapping into this resource when trying to recruit players. The problem is a lot of the talent comes from families that can’t afford to play club ball, so the kids never get the development or exposure, and when that isn’t the issue, it’s grades that will keep them from going anywhere. Three Rivers Soccer Club has done a great job of finding ways to bring that demographic into the club fold and give these kids a chance to develop their talents and to pursue an education through the avenue of soccer. It’s become a real focus to try and bring these kids in and give them a shot because there is so much talent here.
What skill sets describe you as a player?
I think most people that first see me play have the same reaction, they are surprised at how well I move in terms of my lateral quickness, agility, and nimbleness, if that’s a word. In fact my teammates always used to call me a nimble beast—haha! I may look like a big imposing center back, and I was always told I would have made a great tight end, and I thinks it’s because of this that people are shocked to see not only my skill on the ball, but the way I am able to move with it. By no means am I comparing myself to these players, but to give you an idea of the type of player I might be in the mold of, it would be a Yaya Toure or a Zlatan Ibrahimovic. They are two very skillful players who happen to combine an unusual amount of size, speed, strength, and agility.
How did you end up playing for Victoria Highlanders of the PDL? What was the connection, and what did you learn from those experiences?
I ended up in Victoria by way of Collin Miller, who the year prior, was the head coach of Derby County in the English Premier League. He had scouted one of my games and wanted me to come play for the Highlanders in their inaugural season. He was hired to be their first head coach. I had turned down a contract offer from the Vancouver Whitecaps over the summer, and after another trial with the Whitecaps in the winter, they decided they weren’t going to bring me in, so I went to see what Victoria had to offer and fell in love with the organization and city. Alex Campbell, the owner, is a great man, and is really trying to accomplish something bigger in terms of progressing the game in Canada, and I admire and appreciate that passion for the game, because it’s a passion I have as well. I was there for two great years and would encourage any young player trying to develop, to look into that club as a destination. The staff and organization could rival many clubs including MLS, in terms of facilities, resources, staff—and the city of Victoria is beautiful.
Now Tri-Cities will have its own elite adult men’s team in the EPLWA. What were your thoughts when you found out?
Well to be honest I found out from everyone one else. I had people coming up to me congratulating me, and I didn’t know what they were talking about! Low and behold I see in the morning paper as well as on Facebook that I was one of Three Rivers FC’s first signings. I quickly called Chad Bodnar who as you know will be the head coach. He also happens to be the DOC of Three Rivers SC, the local youth club I now work for. He simply confirmed and said “you better start getting fit!” Now that I think about it, I never really had a choice! I will always play this game, because it’s what I love. This is an opportunity to continue to be able to play at a very competitive level, and I’ll always want to do it until my body tells me that I can’t anymore. So far that day hasn’t come I guess.
I’m flattered that I was someone the team felt would add something to the roster, which from what I hear, will be quite competitive with some of the players they are trying to bring in. I haven’t really given it too much thought now for a while though, because it’s obviously still a ways away. But I recently played in my first indoor game for my local men’s league. Now as we get closer, I get more excited to be honest, because it’s coming out of retirement in a way for me, and I get another chance to see what I have left in the tank.
(Photos by Chris Coulter, Dale Garvey, Jenni Conner)
About the EPLWA
The Evergreen Premier League is an elite adult men’s semi-pro soccer league for college and post-college age players to feature their skills on hometown clubs throughout the state of Washington. The league’s mission is to cultivate “football club” culture while providing opportunities for coaches, owners, supporters, players and towns to enjoy the sport and all of the community-building it can bring. The EPLWA will begin season play in May, 2014 and is affiliated with the Washington Adult Soccer Association, the United States Adult Soccer Association, US Soccer and FIFA.
The EPLWA’s eight founding clubs are: Bellingham United, FC Three Rivers Tri-Cities, Seattle Stars FC, South Sound FC, Spokane SC Shadow, Vancouver Victory FC, Wenatchee United FC and WestSound FC.
The league is online at: www.EPLWA.com