By Rob Shore
The path that led Johnny Gibula to Kitsap Soccer Club isn’t so much soccer’s road less traveled as the road few would ever consider.
And if Gibula has his way, the road still has plenty of twists and turns left for him.
Gibula, an 18-year-old center back, was signed by Kitsap SC on Monday after training with the club for three weeks as a trialist. He ultimately was one of two such trialists — along with former Seattle Stars forward Hamidou Kante — to make the club.
He’ll be in uniform Friday night, making him available to make his NPSL debut when Kitsap faces FCM Portland at 7 p.m. at Concordia University.
But making the club took some doing — getting noticed at the club’s open tryout, then impressing at an additional invitational tryout.
“They liked me there, so I continued to practice with them,” he said. “Then (Monday), they offered me to sign. I was really excited to hear that.”
For Gibula, much of what makes him an appealing prospect is potential. Soccer coaches drool over 6-foot-6 center backs who can command the penalty box, so Gibula is never going to go unnoticed, especially after coaches see his skills and the way his long legs cover plenty of ground at the back.
But then, Gibula has only been playing soccer for three years. He only seriously took up the sport after watching the World Cup in 2014.
Even for someone with only three years’ experience, his experience is limited. The resident of Camano Island never played in high school and has less than a year’s experience of playing club ball, for Seattle United. Instead, he trained on his own. By the time most soccer players get to Gibula’s place, they have four years of high school soccer and several years of club ball under their belts.
By comparison, Joe Harris, his partner in central defense in two preseason friendlies, played four seasons of college soccer after a long club career in New Zealand.
But Gibula has been a quick study. He showed enough to earn his shot with Kitsap SC.
“He started two preseason games for us and did well,” said associate head coach Liviu Bird, who also coaches at Seattle United. “You can’t ask for much more out of a guy like that. We’ve been really happy with him.”
Gibula admitted his weeks of training as a trialist were some of the toughest competition he’s seen as a soccer player.
“From the first day, it was amazing,” Gibula said. “The level of play was so high, it was like a whole new experience for me. And just the pace of play was so much higher, but it was really good to be in this environment and to continue to improve every day.”
Bird said that the level of competition in the Kitsap SC training sessions greatly helped the young center back.
“You can do a lot more at the youth level as a good player than you can when you come up against guys of this caliber who are Division I college players and former youth internationals,” Bird said, “It’s a different environment, and he needed to be pushed out of his comfort zone.”
In fact, Gibula liked the environment so much, he asked to keep training with the club, even if they didn’t sign him.
Before he signed on Monday, he filmed the club’s first game against Spokane Shadow on Saturday. It’s a level of commitment that coaches love to see.
Bird said he’s matured, even over the past three weeks of training.
“You can always work with a guy like him,” Bird said. “You always need bodies in training. Then, after we signed him, now he doesn’t have the option — now, he has to be here. He would have been here regardless, knowing him.”
Gibula has signed a letter of intent to play for MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta — whose coaches offered to sign him sight unseen — and he has a tryout for an academy team with Fiorentina, a team in Serie A, Italy’s top league.
But first, there is a matter of suiting up for Kitsap SC.
“It’s crazy,” Gibula said. “It’s like the biggest experience of my life for soccer. It’s amazing.”