Cheryl Manao and her son, Justin, sport the same facial expressions and inflection in their voices when reminiscing about when 2014 USA World Cup player DeAndre Yedlin honed his skills with the Crossfire Premier Soccer Club, which serves the Northshore area.
Their eyes open wide and smiles flash across their faces when they excitedly speak about Yedlin.
“He was fast!” said club administrator Cheryl while taking a quick break during the Nike Crossfire Challenge tournament last Friday morning at 60 Acres Park.
Added Justin, 21: “He was so much quicker than everybody else — it didn’t seem real. It was crazy to play against him, and to think where he is now, is all pretty awesome. I just like to tell people that I played against him.”
That action took place about four years ago, when Yedlin, 21, was on a Crossfire “A” team and Justin played on the “B” squad. Justin noted that going head to head with Yedlin from their center midfield positions was beneficial at the time and in the long run. Playing against the future national team player and Seattle Sounders FC member made Justin work harder and paved the way for his career at Pacific Lutheran University.
“It’s always fun to watch any of the kids and to see them grow up and see where they’re at,” said Cheryl, a Kirkland resident whose son will be a senior in college this fall.
Other notable Crossfire male alumni include Inglemoor High graduate Anthony Arena, George John, Ellis McLoughlin, Kelyn Rowe and Preston Zimmerman, all of whom either currently or formerly played professional soccer.
On the female side, Eastlake High graduate Lindsay Elston currently plays for the Houston Dash of the National Women’s Soccer League. Other top female Crossfire graduates include Sarah Martinez (Redmond High and Cedar Park Christian) and Meredith Teague, both former Seattle Pacific University players. Sierra Bilginer, a 2014 Redmond High graduate, will begin her University of Arizona career this fall.
On the Crossfire coaching front, Bernie James, a former professional player, is the current coaching director. Northwest soccer legends Alan Hinton and Jimmy Gabriel were former coaching directors.
Crossfire, which is affiliated with the 46-year-old Lake Washington Youth Soccer Association, serves about 1,300 players from all across Washington and even players from Portland and Alaska, according to assistant coaching director Steve Crum, a former Crossfire player who attended Juanita High and currently resides in Kirkland. The club — which is part of the US Development Academy for the boys and Elite Clubs National League for the girls — sports teams in the U10 to U18 age divisions.
“We want to provide a place for really committed soccer players to challenge themselves at the highest level possible in the country,” said Crum, noting that players also learn about teamwork and goal setting, which they can apply to soccer and their lives.
Cheryl Manao, who’s had three children kick through the Crossfire system, added: “Staying active and being outside and refocusing a lot of that energy I think improves their school skills, as well, because they have an outlet that helps them on their off time.”
“The whole competitive atmosphere I think was the best part of it. It helped me prepare for college soccer more than anything,” said Justin Manao, who played with Crossfire for seven years. He noted that his top experience was playing for the U17 “B” squad that knocked Crossfire’s “A” team out of the state cup.
Two years ago, Justin played in three World Cup-qualifying matches for the American Samoa national team, which won one match and is featured in the documentary “Next Goal Wins.” Justin — whose grandfather is Samoan and whose uncle is the team’s technical director — had the winning assist in the team’s first-ever victory.
Jaimee Farrell began her Crossfire career in the U11 program and is headed to a higher soccer echelon as a member of the Stony Brook University (New York) team this fall.
“It’s been awesome. I’ve got to travel all over the U.S. to play. It’s opened up so many opportunities for me (to visit colleges),” said Farrell, 17, a Bellevue resident and Interlake High graduate. “And it’s super hard because it’s at such a high level, but we have great coaches.”
Her top Crossfire memory was when her team rebounded from a 7-1 loss to one squad during the regular season and beat them 2-1 en route to finishing third in the nation.
Farrell also played in her share of matches at the Nike Crossfire Challenge, which runs two weekends each summer in Redmond. This year, Crossfire’s biggest tourney drew about 540 boys and girls U9 to U19 teams from Washington, California, Utah, Idaho, Alaska, Oregon, Canada and Hawaii. Teams dribbled away on 29 fields — a combination of full and modified soccer pitches.
“Part of me is jealous because we didn’t have this when we were kids, but it’s great that we can provide it and it keeps growing year after year,” said Crum, who coaches three Crossfire girls teams and formerly coached at the University of Idaho and Texas Tech University. “Our goal is to make this not one of the top tournaments in the country, but the top tournament in the country.”
Aside from the tournaments, Cheryl Manao said Crossfire shines with its camps, fundraising auction and friendship among coaches, players and families. Crossfire recently reached out to soccer players in Guyana and donated more than 200 pounds of soccer gear.
“I feel like we’re one big family,” she said. “It’s a small soccer community in the scheme of things and people help each other. You’re around it a lot and your kids feel part of something and I think it’s important. It’s more than just a game.”