Numbers and interest are on the rise, now the club has a solid shot at getting a turf field

FC Columbia County has already gotten a verbal committment from St. Helens High School to put artificial turf on the school's JV soccer field, highlighted in yellow. Turfing the varsity field to the south is also an option, should the grant money allow it, according to Simon Date, the club's director of coaching.One major change stood out above the others to Simon Date as his young soccer club, FC Columbia County, entered it's third year. Yes, numbers are up. Yes, there's improved interest and participation.

But the biggest thing? Now people will see them coming.

“We're not going to surprise anybody,” said Date, the club's director of coaching and the head of the U14 girls' squad.

The tables quickly turned. What was once seen as a group of youngsters garbled into a collection of soccer teams won more than the respect of the larger clubs across the Portland area, they started to take victories too.

“We have phenomenal athletes and fantastic coaching as well, and we started showing up and winning a bunch of games,” said Date. “We won tournaments, we did great against the big clubs. Now, we're going to struggle to surprise anybody, which is good.”

This season, they'll be fielding four girls’ teams up to U14 and two boys’ teams – if they can get the numbers. The U14 boys' team has combined with the U13s, but they're still a few boys short of the cutoff to form a U10 team. Supplemental tryouts will be held on Sunday, June 22 at 10 a.m.

Though the teams are full for the season, Date said the success in the last year brought solid numbers to tryouts, coupled with a higher level of involvement from parents.

“I think it's a better organization top to bottom than it was last year in terms of the coaches we have in place, the system, the board support and the fact that now there are very few soccer players in the county that don't know we exist and they came to try out,” he said.

Those who didn't try out or didn't make the teams this season can still sign up for rec-league soccer, which has a far later deadline and begins in September. The club season, by contrast, begins in the middle of June. The club coaches are licensed and paid – albeit tiny amounts – and the teams have different travel and uniform requirements that raise the price above a rec-league team, but the players likely get a better and longer experience than they would otherwise.

“You're playing bigger, better, faster, stronger teams, and you're playing for coaches who know what they're doing,” said Date. “That's not to say that the rec coaches don't, because we have some coaches [in the rec leagues] that are licensed as well, but it's not required.”

Those aren't the only benefits. Date, who also heads up the girls' soccer program at St. Helens High School, has been working to integrate the two sides to make the transition from his U14 (eighth grade) team easier. The high school players will sometimes stop in and help out during training, something that can help to inspire a young player.

“It's not like Christiano Ronaldo shows up to practice and you're like ‘holy crap, this is awesome,' however, this is who they come to watch. This is the first exposure most of these kids are going to have of high level soccer is at the high school,” said Date.

“The high school kids get as much of a kick out of it as anybody else, because it's the first time in their life that they've had anybody look at them and say ‘holy smokes, that's Sydney Nett' or ‘that's Ashley Geisbers,' or whoever is there,” said Date. “It's just a very cool thing to see them interact with the kids as a giving back program.”

At this point, the thing the club is missing is a facility they can use year-round. The high school fields and even the fields at the fairgrounds turn to mud as fall settles on Columbia County, and Date still holds dear the idea of the club putting in a turf field.

That reality may be a little closer than previously expected. FC Columbia County will be employing a pair of grant writers on a part-time basis for the next year with the hopes of landing a grant big enough to either buy their own field and put in an artificial surface or put turf on the JV soccer field at St. Helens High School, something they've been given a verbal commitment to do.

Now, it's all about numbers: turfing the high school field will cost around one and a half million dollars, while the option of buying their own field runs closer to two million.

Turfing the varsity field and adding football lines is an option as well, but it depends on what the grant-givers will allow. A grant from US Soccer, for instance, would likely be for a soccer-specific field.

The club has already taken off quickly, given the talent and determination of the local kids, but Date thinks having a year-round field could make things even better.

“If we could get these kids on a surface that was year round, that was all-weather, that was fantastic like turf, this place would skyrocket,” he said.

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