By Rob Shore
BREMERTON, Wash. — While Kitsap Soccer Club’s opponent this weekend in the NPSL might be brand new, at least the surroundings will be a little familiar.
When Kitsap faces CD Aguiluchos USA on Saturday in the NPSL Western Conference semifinals — the first time this season Kitsap will meet an NPSL team from outside the Northwest Conference Division — for a few players, the game at San Leandro’s Burrell Field will feel a little like home.
Forwards Sean Bowman and Jorge Ruiz play college soccer at the University of San Francisco, just across the bay from San Leandro. So does Santi DiGiuseppe, who played for Kitsap this season before injuries cut his season short.
“I think it’s awesome,” Ruiz said “I know I have some teammates that are already back in San Francisco right now that are coming to the game. It’s cool that for one game we get to play in (the Bay Area).”
Bowman was also excited about the opportunity.
“It’s actually the best part (of this game),” Bowman said. “A lot of kids, at least five or six (USF teammates) already said they’d be at the game. It’ll be to see some friends down there, seeing some friendly faces.”
In some respects, this will be a homecoming for more than the USF trio. Of the 17 players who will travel to Saturday’s game, seven played collegiately in California and five grew up in the Golden State. But it might hit Bowman and Ruiz closer than the others.
Bowman, Ruiz and DiGiuseppe were not originally recruited to Kitsap SC together. Ruiz and DiGiuseppe were recommended to associate head coach Liviu Bird by Mike Munoz, who had coached them in the LA Galaxy academy.
When Bird asked USF coach Eddie Soto about the pair, Soto mentioned that Bowman — a Bothell native and a former member of the Seattle Sounders academy — wanted to find a summer team close to home.
“A little bit of recruiting, a little bit of happenstance,” Bird said. “It’s just how things were thrown together.”
Bowman then helped seal the deal to bring his college teammates to Kitsap SC. As he put it, he needed his buddies.
“I just told them how nice Washington is and that this team is known throughout the state,” he said. “It would be a great way for us to get involved and be a better player than we already are.”
All three have played important roles during Kitsap SC’s inaugural season in the NPSL. Ruiz leads the club with four goals this season and all three scored in their debuts with the club.
Bowman came off the bench against Spokane in the season opener on May 20, the day he arrived from San Francisco — scoring Kitsap’s first goal of the season in the second half. A day after Ruiz arrived, he scored the equalizer in a 3-2 fightback victory over FC Mulhouse Portland on May 26.
DiGiuseppe scored five minutes into his debut with Kitsap SC on June 21, a match-winner in a 1-0 victory against OSA FC at Starfire Sports Stadium.
“It’s more than just providing us with needed goals; we talk a lot about taking advantage of moments,” Bird said. “Those guys took advantage of those moments and they grasped them.”
Ruiz said that having his college teammates around while he acclimated himself to Bremerton for the summer was a big help.
“I was a little more exciting, a little easier,” he said, “because I knew I’d have Sean and Santi with me every day and it would make things a lot smoother.”
Bowman did his part to make them feel at home, taking them to his hometown and showing them around. If his college teammates needed help making the adjustment to their summer homes, he was there to help.
“I think it would be less (of an adjustment) for me and Santi,” said Bowman, who has two goals for Kitsap SC this season. “But maybe for Jorge, this might be the first time he’s been on his own where he had to cook for himself, clean for himself. No Mom or anything like that.”
Now, having gotten used to Kitsap County after a summer here, Bowman and Ruiz are returning to the San Francisco Bay Area. If only for a day — and a playoff matchup against CD Aguiluchos USA.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Ruiz said. “It’s going to be a good one.”