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SEMI-PRO: A new level of soccer has arrived in the Valley

By Jeremiah Bartz - www.Frontiersman.com
Published Oct 16, 2018

PALMER — Semi-professional soccer made its debut in the Mat-Su Valley.

Alaska City Football Club hosted Christ United FC in a scrimmage Sept. 29 at Palmer High School’s Machetanz Field. Christ United, Alaska’s defending amateur state champion, beat Alaska City 3-0 in the friendly. But those who helped create the Valley’s first semi-pro soccer squad are thrilled about all of the progress on and off the pitch.

“We’re super excited. We think it went really well,” Alaska City general manager Barrett Banks said recently.

 

More than 300 fans attended the program’s first match.

“That’s really encouraging for our first event,” Banks said. “It’s really neat to see that many people show up.”

The match was also live-streamed at the Peanut Farm in Anchorage, Banks said. The ultimate goal, Banks said, was to introduce semi-pro soccer to Alaska.

The United Premiere Soccer League announced expansion to Alaska in June, with Alaska City the league’s first team in the 49th state. The Palmer-based team will hit the turf officially for the league’s summer season in 2019. Banks said as Alaska City continues to establish itself as an organization, there is also work to continue expansion in Alaska. The immediate goal, Banks said is four programs in the Last Frontier. But that’s just the start. Banks said the UPSL would like to see as many as eight to 12 teams in Alaska. Banks said the hope is for Alaska City to create a blueprint that future Alaska teams can use to get their own start. Banks said there are currently groups in multiple regions in the state interested in joining the new Alaska conference.

Barrett’s son Josh Banks, a former Palmer High soccer standout and the head coach of the Moose boys’ soccer program, inspired the effort to bring semi-pro soccer to the area. Josh Banks said that stemmed from his time in Coos Bay, Oregon, where he was a member of the Southwestern Oregon Community College men’s program.

“I saw the atmosphere in Oregon, how huge of a fan base,” Josh Banks said after the UPSL announced expansion to Palmer. “I thought, why not Alaska?”

Josh Banks is now the Alaska City player representative, and one of 26 athletes of the roster. He’s also a member of a squad made up predominately of Valley talent. Former Colony standouts Ben Sande, Asher Dale, Chaz Stephens, Austin Richardson, Aaron Richardson, Kyle Bolam and Leopold Jaschek; and former Wasilla standouts Ethan Keena, Nate Hanson, Elijah Crawford, Zach McCann and Kevin Harper are on the team. Alaska FC also includes Colony High seniors Noah Krozel and Kyle Dearborn. Krozel was named the 2018 Gatorade Alaska Boys Soccer Player of the Year.

 

“We’ve got a lot of really good players. We just need more time playing together,” Barrett Banks said. “Christ United, a lot of those players have been playing together for a long time.”

Alaska FC also hired longtime Colony High soccer coach Jeremy Johnson as its head coach.

“I thought he would be perfect face for soccer in the Valley,” Josh Banks said.

Johnson, head coach of the Colony High School boys’ program since 1995, is ranked second all-time in state history on the boys’ soccer wins list. He also recently completed his second season as head coach of the Colony High girls program.

“It wasn’t something I was seeking, but an opportunity that presented itself,” Johnson said.

Johnson will continue as head coach of both Colony programs. Johnson said he’s happy to be a part of the new program.

“It’s a really exciting opportunity for Alaska, especially the players up here,” Johnson said.

 

Josh Banks said it’s key to note that players in the UPSL retain their amateur status. Banks said he sees a lot of potential for the club to lure a high level of players.

Another key, Barrett Banks said, is establishing relationships off the field. Alaska FC is working with local youth soccer programs. Banks said the Palmer High football booster club also stepped up to help, running the concession stand at Machetanz Field during the scrimmage.

“It’s super encouraging how many people helped us out,” Barrett Banks said.

Machetanz Field will continue to be the team’s home turf.

“It’s a fantastic venue. You can’t beat the view. It’s a great location, and (Palmer High) has given us tons of support,” Barrett Banks said.

Barrett Banks said the team hosts to organize another scrimmage as Alaska City FC continues to prepare for the 2019 UPSL season. Aside from that, Banks said, everyone involved is encouraged.

“I’m really excited at the response,” Banks said.

 

Contact Frontiersman editor Jeremiah Bartz at sports@frontiersman.com.