Cascadia: America’s answer to World Cup heartbreak

On October 10th 2017, referee Marlon Mejia blew the final whistle at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. An own goal from Omar Gonzalez and a right-footed long-range effort from Alfie Jones saw Trinidad & Tobago shock North American football. The USA discovered that results had gone against them in Panama and Honduras and they would not be heading to Russia the following summer for the FIFA World Cup. In fact, they wouldn’t even have the opportunity to redeem themselves through a play-off. For the first time since 1986, the United States would not be representing North America on the world stage, leaving American football fans without a team to support this summer. Or does it?

Enter Cascadia.

On May 31st, a region from the Pacific Northwest called Cascadia will take on Ellan Vannin (known more popularly as the Isle of Man) at Gander Green Lane, in their opening World Football Cup fixture. However, there are a significant number of hurdles the Cascadian team has to overcome before they step on the field in three months time, including finding people to play for them.

“We do not currently have any players signed up. Players can be anyone who has a family or residence connection to Cascadia.” Aaron Johnsen, President of CAFF – or the Cascadia Association Football Federation – told me when I asked him about the side. In fact, Cascadia have yet to play a single game and have no friendlies currently planned in the lead-up to their maiden tournament.

“Cascadia qualified by being the only organisation of our kind in good standing with CONIFA. Our expectations going into the tournament are to put together a team that can compete and hopefully win.”

This is the crux of the problem for Cascadia and many teams like them within CONIFA. If you don’t have any local counterparts, then it becomes incredibly difficult to organise fixtures for your side. Cascadia are the only qualifiers from North America for this summer’s tournament, and currently Quebec are the only other team on the same continent as Cascadia who also have CONIFA membership, and the two sides couldn’t be further apart while existing on the same continent.

There has always been a lot of interests in the project, yet we have failed to attract the talent required to actually start a team.”

The aim of the side is to have a roster of players to choose from by April 1st according to their Facebook page, although it’s unlikely the likes of DeAndre Yedlin of Newcastle United and Freddy Montero of Sporting CP will be selected, even though both players are eligible to represent Cascadia.  Yedlin was born in Seattle and Montero has played for the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps.

Welcome to the Epicenter of North American Football

This is the statement that greets you when you visit the official Cascadia website. The history of football in the region stretches back to the beginnings of professional football in the United States at the start of the 1970s, with the three major cities within Cascadia – Seattle, Portland and Vancouver – being awarded NASL sides within a year of each other. As well as admission to the NASL, the three teams created the Cascadia Cup, awarded to the best performing side in the region and was won by the Portland Timbers in 2017 for the first time in five seasons.

When the MLS began in 1996, Seattle were only denied a franchise due to the lack of a dedicated stadium. Vancouver were the first non-US based side to join the competition in 2011, the same year as the Timbers, who have already won the MLS Cup.

Unlike many of the sides at the World Football Cup, people are less likely to be aware of where Cascadia is or how they qualify under CONIFA’s rules to join the federation.

“We put together a bid that included showing were we are, the unique culture of bioregionalism and soccer.”

Cascadia’s mission statement describes themselves as a distinct cultural identity and isolated bioregion, made up of parts of Oregon and Washington state in the US, and the western region of British Columbia in Canada.

cascadia region
The green section represents ‘Core Cascadia’ while the dark outline contains ‘Bioregional Cascadia’

As the term suggests, a ‘bioregion’ is an area with similar natural characteristics such as native plants and wildlife, the climate and a continuous geographic terrain. But the term also takes the local population into consideration and the football culture in the Pacific Northwestern was another key component of Cascadia being granted CONIFA membership. The trifecta of the Sounders, the Whitecaps and the Portland Timbers are key contributors to this culture, with all three sides boasted a 96% capacity or higher last season. Compare this to the likes of the New York and Los Angeles clubs who average around 80% and you can see just how popular football is in the area.

Like all the teams wishing to compete in London this summer, Cascadia need the support of the general public to support the side in their goal of representing their region. You can visit Cascadia’s official site and sponsor the side, any support will be greatly appreciated. Alternatively, Cascadia are still looking for players and coaches, and if you think you’ve got what it takes to play in a World Cup this summer, you can enquire about joining the side here.

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