For many of the Kitsap Puma’s faithful it seems like just yesterday Matt Friesen scored the magical “no-angle” goal against the Thunder Bay Chill in the 2011 Premier Development League (PDL) National Semifinal- a goal that would ultimately propel the club to claim its first and only PDL National Championship.
Modeling his game after all-time greats such as Zinedine Zidane and Steven Gerrard, Friesen anchored the Kitsap midfield for four seasons from 2009-2012. His outstanding contribution during his time at Kitsap has surely helped pave the way for other players who have come through the small navy town after him.
Friesen, who is still the club’s all-time leading goal scorer, developed a passion for the game at a much later age than most.
“I was sort of a late bloomer into soccer I suppose,” Friesen said. “Growing up I played golf, basketball and soccer but it wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I started to play club as well. When I began playing with Portland City United was when I really started to get hooked on the game.”
Following graduation Friesen elected to attend Whitworth University, one of the elite Division III programs in the nation. In his four years playing for the Pirates Friesen truly began to shine.
Although he didn’t start as a freshman, he quickly worked his way to being one of the top players in the conference.
“Once I was at Whitworth was when I really got the love for the game,” said Friesen. “Not only that but that’s when I started to build better training habits and do the extra work I needed to do to play at the highest level possible.”
While at Whitworth, Friesen played a vital role in the school’s three Northwest Conference Championships, including a run to the NCAA Division III Final Four his sophomore year. In addition he also received individual All-Conference and All-Region honors for his outstanding play.
After concluding his collegiate career, Friesen thought he was finished playing competitively. However, when an opportunity to pursue his dream of being a professional player presented itself he didn’t hesitate. Friesen was invited to play for Royal Racing Football Club Montegnee, which was a fourth division professional club located in Saint-Nicolas, Belgium.
“After college I felt like I was done,” said Friesen. “But then I got an opportunity and left for Belgium pretty much on a whim. I ended up playing there for nine months and I had an awesome experience all around.”
Upon returning home from Belgium, Friesen once again found himself contemplating if this was the end for him and began looking for jobs in Portland, near his hometown. However, a quick call from then Assistant Coach of the Pumas, Andrew Chapman, changed the course of his life for the next few years.
“I remember Andrew Chapman called me after I had gotten back from Belgium and told me about a new professional team that was starting up in Bremerton, Washington,” said Friesen. “At first I was a bit skeptical but once I got a glimpse of it I knew it would be a great option for me to keep playing and continue doing what I love.”
After traveling to Kitsap to tryout for the Pumas in their inaugural season in 2009, Friesen was one of the first players signed to the squad. Friesen would go on to play four seasons for Kitsap in which he helped the club win two Northwest Divisional titles, one Western Conference title and a PDL National title in 2011.
Friesen, who led the way for the Pumas in scoring three seasons in a row (2010-2012), consistently performed at a high level all four years averaging over 1,000 minutes each season even though he struggled with injuries.
In 2012 alone, he was named PDL Player of the Week as well as named to the PDL All-Western Conference Team and the All-PDL Team along with current national team players such as DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders U23) and Gyasi Zardes (Ventura County Fusion).
Although Friesen received a lot of attention at the PDL level and experienced a lot of success both individually and with the Pumas, it is the simpler things he now misses most.
“It was amazing winning a national championship with the Pumas but that is not what I miss most,” said Friesen. “What I miss most is the camaraderie of the team and just the general banter of training everyday. We also had a hardcore, fantastic group of fans and a tight-knit community that I enjoyed as well.”
In total, Friesen scored a staggering 31 goals in 79 appearances for Kitsap. Following his final season with Kitsap in 2012 Friesen went to trial with Sporting Kansas City of the Major League Soccer (MLS) as well as had interest from a few other clubs.
“After that last season I went to trial with Sporting [Kansas City],” recalled Friesen “and after about a week of training I wasn’t signed because of my age. I had a few other places I could have gone as well but the expenses of traveling to tryout were just too much.”
After Friesen was left unsigned by Sporting he returned to play indoor for the Puma’s squad that competed in the Professional Arena Soccer League (PASL). Unfortunately for Friesen there were not as many options to play professionally here in the States back then as there are now. Just since 2012 the USL has expanded from 11 teams to 24 while the MLS continues to add more franchises.
“I don’t regret any of my time playing. I had a great time but I do kind of wish I had played a few years later once soccer was a little more developed here,” said Friesen. “The game has grown so much just these past few years and its very exciting for the young kids who are doing it all now.”
Although Friesen was unable to make the jump past the PDL he is happy with the strides his former club has made over the past couple years to help players after him to have a better chance at doing what he couldn’t.
“Kitsap has been a great stepping stone for talented players to develop,” said Friesen. “Cammy is doing a great job at trying to build the club and it shows in the amount of players the they have helped move on just in the past years. You only get such a short window to play so its important for them to get the most support they can.”
While Kitsap has surely worked hard to do their part as a PDL club to develop players and push them on to higher levels, it wouldn’t be possible without the contributions from players like Friesen whose dedication and play helped make this club what it stands for today.