A big week for your Seattle Sounders? You bet.
And perhaps an even bigger week over here for soccer-crazed fans on this side of the Puget Sound.
Cloudy, sprinkling skies and a little extra traffic from a certain lavender-themed event didn’t seem to deter many soccer enthusiasts from making the trek to Agnew for the Sequim/Seattle Sounders soccer clinic on Sunday, July 17.
Sandwiched between a key match against rival Colorado on Saturday — a 4-3 Sounders win — and a “friendly” against Manchester United, likely the world’s most popular squad apart from national teams, the camp saw three Sounders lead youths, teens and adults alike in a series of drills, a scrimmage, a question-and-answer session and give out a few autographs to boot.
The camp was part of the Kingdom Hope program founded by Sounders star Steve Zakuani. Despite being sidelined from matches since a horrific leg injury in an April 22 match against the aforementioned Colorado Rapids, Zakuani joined teammates Patrick Iaani and James Riley to host the camp, along with Kingdom Hope executive director Garrick Pang and camp organizer Nathan Funston of Sequim.
Zakuani founded Kingdom Hope as a community outreach organization with the vision statement of “Inspiring Greatness through Soccer.” The nonprofit organization aims to help and inspire individuals to become achievers in all areas of life through camps, clinics, a scholarship fund and soccer academies. The program’s ultimate vision is to establish soccer academies in several locations.
Pang said Zakuani has a 50-year plan that includes at least one academy in England, one in the Democratic Republic of Congo and one in the United States. These academies would take in 16-year-olds and give them education and life skills along with soccer skills.
The original plan for Kingdom Hope, Pang said, was for Zakuani to host camps and start the academies after he retired — but then he changed his mind.
“Why not strike while the iron’s hot?” Pang said. “He’s got a vision. An incredible young man.”
As Zakuani oversaw drills and offered advice, Iaani, Riley and Pang led separate groups in defensive, dribbling and shot-taking drills.
Sunday’s event was a reunion of sorts for Riley and 5-year-old Riley Michaelis. The peninsula youth drew the attention of the starting Seattle defenseman following a Sounders-New England game on June 26.
Having already tossing his jersey to a fan in the crowd, Riley was leaving the field but returned and handed young Riley his game shoes.
The Seattle star recognized his young fan and posed for a photo with Michaelis and family.
“This is cool, it’s my first time out here,” said Riley, watching a camp scrimmage. “It’s beautiful.”
Zakuani joined campers in a scrimmage, playing goalkeeper and looking nimble for one recovering from a severe leg injury.
The Sounders trio also answered a host of questions from campers following a scrimmage.
“It never gets old,” Riley told the campers, about being excited for a Sounders match. “I still get butterflies before the game.”
Funston, who organized the event, said he would love to host another Sounders camp in the future.
“Initially we were looking for more numbers (turnout); however … I think the kids had a better experience because they had more personal time with each pro,” he said. “In talking to some parents who had attended other Sounders clinics, it was mainly coaches and other Sounders volunteers they met, not necessarily the players. So from that perspective it was better than I had hoped.”
Funston added, “I think it was really inspirational for the community to see these guys and see that they are real people who worked hard to get where they are today. I hope it shows our young players that they can aspire to great things as well.”
Reach Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.