Nate Land has played soccer since he was a kid, and he sees no need for folks to give up the sport as they grow up.
Land has already spent the past three years as the volunteer organizer for adult soccer for the county’s parks and recreation program, but this summer, he decided to take it to the next level, by starting an adult soccer league in Port Townsend.
“It’s the first adult soccer league in Port Townsend in 25 years, and it’s brought to the town by Jefferson County Parks and Recreation,” Land said. “There’s a lot of support for it here in town, and a lot of Port Townsend High School alumni are getting a chance to kick it around.”
Although Land has only played soccer at a rec league level, he’s volunteered as a coach for PTHS for the past two years, and is also a certified referee for local kids’ games.
Land co-implemented this league with his friend, Joost Besijn, who’s been a big soccer fan his entire life.
“Growing up in the Netherlands, Joost was raised in a soccer culture, and was eager to help set up a more organized way for adults to enjoy the sport,” Land said.
Land credited rising interest in the World Cup among American adults with helping to revive an interest in soccer that was apparently strong enough to support its own league in town around three decades ago, before that league was discontinued and the opportunities to play soccer in Port Townsend were reduced to a weekly pick-up game at Blue Heron Middle School.
“Two years ago, I asked Chris Macklin if we could make our informal pick-up group into a county program that could use Memorial Field regularly, which is a very nice facility and we’re lucky to have it,” said Land, who noted that the Blue Heron field is not maintained during the summer, which made Memorial Field more appealing. “We got a lot more players interested in coming out, when they knew they could play at Memorial Field instead of Blue Heron.”
Those pick-up games eventually attracted enough players from Jefferson and Clallam counties to sustain a full-fledged league, with one group of players traveling from Sequim to play in what would become the “FC Port Townsend” league.
“Joost had mentioned how common recreational leagues were when he lived in Europe,” Land said. “Leagues are so widely available there that it’s quite difficult to even find a way to play that isn’t associated to an established league.”
When Land and Besijn suggested implementing a league to the county in turn, Macklin “jumped right up out of his seat,” in Land’s words, and pledged his support for a new adult league in town.
“Chris’ rationale was that, prior implementing the league, our pick-up soccer group — which played three times a week, year-round — was one of the most popular adult sport recreational events in the county, second only to the very popular summer softball league,” Land said.
FC Port Townsend currently boasts four teams, each with a 14-18 person roster.
“We’d love to have more teams, but the number of people who registered before the league started was somewhat limited,” Land said. “It wasn’t clear we’d have enough players to have an eight-to-a-side league of four teams, at the time registration closed for the league on May 29, but on the deadline day, we had sort of 20-ish people register all at once, so we could establish four full teams. I’m happy with the turnout, but it would be excellent to have more teams.”
According to Land, the mix of players that have turned out for the league range from former professionals to first timers, with ages ranging from 16 to their mid-50s.
“The skill levels are variable, but there are enough skilled players to have games that are really fun to watch,” Land said. “There are a lot of PTHS alumni that are happy to be able to play at their home field again. I wanted to encourage an environment where players could be competitive, but also create a fun, family environment, where fair play is emphasized.”
Although Land admitted it’s been a challenge to register more players, he’s been surprised and impressed by the level of support the league has received from local government officials, including Parks and Rec Manager Matt Tyler, who have been available during their off-hours and worked to ensure that the field and facilities have been ready for play.
“It’s been a huge undertaking for them, and they’ve done it all with a smile,” Land said.
Land still takes pride in the turnout that FC Port Townsend’s first game generated.
“When I arrived, the parking lot was completely full, and I had a hard time finding a spot to park,” Land said. “I finally got to the fields, and saw the touchlines were completely swarmed with the families and friends of players, who’d heard about the spectacle. It blew my mind that we’d created something that was now tangible, something fun for everyone.”
Land has hopes of starting a second session this fall, but he’ll need more players starting in September.
In the meantime, FC Port Townsend is playing at Memorial Field for the first three Sundays in July, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
“Soccer has an amazing capacity for bridging community divides, because the sport is so inherently global,” Land said. “When I travel abroad, my first language is always soccer. A large percentage of the people that play with us are new to this country, and they are accepted and respected. Our community is stronger when we know our neighbors, and we share a good time and have a laugh.”
For the league’s schedules and standings, visit fcporttownsend.org.