by Heidi Smith
For serious soccer players in the Olympia area, few opportunities have existed locally to take their game to the next level. Ryan Perkins, Jason Smith and Matt Herrera came of age in the South Sound at a time when staying competitive meant driving all the way to downtown Seattle on weeknights to train. “There was nothing around,” says Perkins. “Now we have a place for local players to compete at the highest level, keep their fitness up and possibly get scouted by professional clubs or higher-level NCAA schools, whether they’re in college or former semi-pros looking to get back in the game.”
That place is Oly Town FC, an Olympia-based soccer club with indoor and outdoor league teams for both men and women. The club underwent an ownership change in the fall of 2021 with Perkins handling administrative duties, while Smith coaches the men’s outdoor team and Herrera serves as the women’s coach this summer. All three are members of the ownership team and former players who have been involved in the Pacific Northwest soccer scene for decades.
Founded in 2014 by Brandon Sparks, Oly Town Artesians FC was originally an indoor club team known as the Tumwater Pioneers. In 2021, Oly Town added a men’s outdoor team and joined the USL League Two, a semi-professional developmental association with clubs throughout the U.S., Canada and Bermuda. Oly Town formed a women’s indoor team in 2019, only to have it promptly shut down because of the pandemic. This year the club is fielding a women’s outdoor team to compete in the Northwest Premier League, and already they’re in serious contention for the league championship. As of this writing, the women’s side are one game away from the final game against Capital FC in Salem, Oregon.
Recruitment strategies differ slightly between the men’s and women’s clubs. Smith notes that Oly Town got off to a late start by joining the USL when recruitment season was already in full swing. “This first season is to establish a good rapport with players and surrounding colleges,” he explains. “The USL is a great opportunity for college players to continue playing at a high level once their spring season ends. We want UW, PLU and Portland to know they can send their players to us.”
On the women’s side, relationships are key, according to Herrera. Many players also participate in the indoor league and often, they tell their friends. “We reach out to college coaches but a lot of it is actually word of mouth,” he says. “We have a couple of high school girls that play for Olympia along with college students and some players in their late twenties. It’s a good mix.”
Attacking midfielder Alec Zimmerman, 22, is a self-described child of soccer junkies who grew up playing and attending games at The Evergreen State College where his dad was a coach. He’s played for several college teams as well as the Washington Premier League and attended the Sounders Academy, a youth development program. Having this level of competition available in his hometown is a gamechanger, he believes. “The USL is more serious,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to raise the standard of play. Ironically, we now have people driving down here from Tacoma and even Seattle.”
Goalkeeper Sawyer Price, 21, played for Black Hills FC and was recruited to Northwest Nazarene University, a Division Two school where he is entering his fourth year. He sees Oly Town FC as a place to keep his skills sharp over the summer. “As an athlete, you always want to be in situations where you’re going to grow and become better,” says Price. “At the same time, I want to do my part to support the club and make something big here.”
Oly Town doesn’t charge players to participate, but it doesn’t pay them either. Currently, 90% of the club’s funding comes through local businesses in Thurston and Mason County. That’s a challenge in a smaller market without a built-in fan base, says Perkins. “We do our best to advertise our sponsors and incorporate them into our experience with fans,” he explains. “Literally every dollar that comes in is spent on jerseys, field rentals and coaching, along with some camera equipment for our broadcasts.”
Those live-streamed broadcasts have continued to attract more fans across the country. Viewership is up by two hundred percent and over 1,000 people tune in to watch games featuring play-by-play commentary and graphics. “It’s our first year in the USL and we’re learning quickly what’s working and what’s not,” Perkins notes.
If the men’s team can reach the playoffs this year, they’ll earn a spot at the U.S. Open tournament, where they could face opponents like the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers. “That would be a fantastic thing,” says Smith. “It’s one of our goals. Overall, we’re looking to build a fan base and a large enough group of players that we have not only the USL group but a reserve team.”
Herrera hopes that the club will provide his four-year-old daughter with a place to play if she sticks with the game. “Growing up, there was nothing like this in Olympia,” he says. “Ryan and I always talked about how cool it would be to have high-level soccer in this area. This is the opportunity, and we’ve had a lot of support from local businesses. I think it’s huge for this community.”