Soccer And The Art Of Storytelling: An Interview With Peter Ostrovsky of The Evergreen Premier League
Welcome to the Pyramid once again faithful readers. Whether you found us on Facebook, Twitter, or somewhere in between, it's good to have you here. I've got a really special interview for everyone today. I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the most interesting people in soccer that I've encountered thus far, Peter Ostrovsky. Peter helps out with the Evergreen Premier League in Washington state, and has quite the colorful background and story of how he came to be involved in soccer. He's a smart man running a very exciting local league, one that is definitely worth your time to check out. It was a fun interview and I'm really excited to share it with all of you. Read on after the break, and prepare to be amazed.
American Pyramid: Tell me a little bit about yourself Peter. Who you are, where you're from, what your role is with the Evergreen Premier League.
Peter Ostrovsky: I live in Bellingham, WA and I'm 51 years old, married and we have fraternal twin 16 year old boys. I am the son of Cuban immigrants (Cuban mother & Russian father), who came to the United States from Cuba in 1960 and I grew up in a Spanish speaking household in Miami, FL. Currently, I'm the head of the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) office in Blaine, WA and have 29 years’ of federal criminal investigative experience. I'm the volunteer president of the EPLWA and am responsible for providing leadership and supervision of other league officers and staff while executing the collective league-level vision of the 8 club owners who form the league's Board of Directors. I'm also a Commissioner to the Washington State Adult Soccer Association (WSASA) which is affiliated with the US Adult Soccer Association and represent the league's interests there.
AP: When did you first get interested in soccer in general and running a soccer league in particular?
PO: I played soccer in high school back in 1978-1982. Knowing what I know now, I wasn't very good. I played defense and all I can remember was getting serious grass burns on my legs from all of the emergency defending that I was doing on awful bumpy South Florida American football fields.
I also went to many of the original Ft Lauderdale Strikers' matches when they were full of famous internationals, like Ray Hudson, Gerd Mueller, Nene Cubillas, Thomas Rongen, George Best, Ron Newman, David Irving and Branko Segota. But honestly after that, I can't really remember following soccer or even the 1994 World Cup in the USA, except for the US team’s iconic denim star jerseys and Alexi Lalas' hair and beard.
I didn't play soccer again until 2008 when I was working as a diplomat at the US Embassy in London and I joined the embassy soccer team. How could I not, living and working in the epicenter of English football. We played matches against our British counterparts in the Metropolitan Police Service, the City of London Police and even the Houses of Parliament.
When I returned to Bellingham, WA in 2011, I was looking for a place to play and joined a Men's Over 40 indoor league that suited my work schedule. I also naturally fell into following the Seattle Sounders and attended their 2012 season kickoff luncheon where I met a bunch of their players and Front Office staff which at the time was also the front office staff for the Seattle Seahawks, since they were still sharing a business office back then. I found the business of soccer fascinating and thought that perhaps based upon my professional background that I could fashion a second career for myself after federal retirement in field of sports security management. In pursuit of those aspirations, I enrolled with the University of Southern Mississippi’s National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) and obtained an online certificate in sports security management. In 2013, I also attended NCS4's National Sport Safety and Security Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, FL to further explore that potential future career field.
While playing indoor, I met Ted Dennesen, the owner of TNT Promotional Products, who was working with Jeff McIntyre, the president/owner of Ruffneck Scarves, who was starting up Bellingham United FC (BUFC), as a local high-level amateur side that was going to play in the Pacific Coast Soccer League (PCSL), a predominantly Canadian league. I became a BUFC Board Advisor and also assisted them with game day operations. Later when EPLWA wa being spun up, I volunteered to assist in whatever capacity was needed to launch the league.
AP: Was there a certain event that got you into the sport, or has soccer always been a part of your life?
PO: As a child, I was a competitive AAU swimmer from age 6 to 14 and spent all of my free time chasing the black line on the bottom of a pool. Then when I went to Chaminade High School, an all-boys Marianist school in Hollywood, FL, they didn’t have a swim team, so I quit swimming, tried out for basketball and failed to even make the JV squad. So I turned to distance events in track and field and eventually soccer when the school started its' first ever soccer team. I had no idea what soccer was all about other than that there was a lot of running and chasing the ball.
AP: I'm really curious about this. What's the story behind the creation of the EPL? I mean, what events conspired to bring this league about?
PO: I believe that EPLWA came about as a result of a series of conversations between several parties that I was not a part of. As I understand it, BUFC owner Jeff McIntyre (Ruffneck Scarves) was talking with David Falk (goalWA.net) about the concept of a league similar to the PCSL in Washington State that BUFC could play in while BUFC coach Lance Calloway and South Sound FC (Tacoma, WA) owner John Crouch were talking about the same thing for South Sound FC, which was a well-established tournament team that was playing regionally and nationally as well as indoors in the PASL. At some point, I saw a solicitation that goalWA.net had on their Facebook for persons interested in being a part of EPLWA and I jumped in with both feet. We had a couple of conference calls for interested clubs and league volunteers and the rest is history.
AP: Now what is about Washington that seems to make people really support soccer? I mean not only do you have the Sounders, you've got the EPL, Kitsap Pumas, and strong youth involvement. Is there something in the water?
PO: Yes, there is absolutely something in the “rain water”. Joking aside, I believe that there has always been a true long term interest and love of the game here because many of the peoples who settled in WA State were either European or Latin American and it was their game back in their home countries. So even for children born in Washington, their parents and their grandparents have always had a great affinity for the game. From an adult standpoint, there are about 12,000 adult amateur players registered with the Washington State Adult Soccer Association (WSASA) along with many adult leagues affiliated with WSASA on both sides of the state.
AP: How would you like to see your league help the state grow it's soccer footprint?
AP: From the onset, EPLWA has always been about affording opportunities for the growth and development of all things connected to hometown soccer in Washington State. With respect to the players, it provides high-level amateurs from blue collar locals to college players returning home for the summer a place to showcase their talents in front of hometown fans and other higher level leagues. An example of such is the fact that since our first season there have been at least 6 EPLWA players who are now playing at a higher level or were drafted as professionals in other national leagues like the PDL, USL-PRO, MASL and MLS. The league also provides opportunities for referee development, by providing them higher level matches to referee. On the local business side it gives businesses the opportunity to be associated with a local sports team that is becoming part of their community fabric. So it's all a mutually beneficial situation.
Another real cool thing, is that EPLWA specifically chooses to partner with Washington-owned soccer businesses in an effort to elevate both brands in the State. Currently West Coast Goalkeeping (WCGK), from Maple Valley, WA and owned by Shawn Norris, supports all EPLWA club goalkeepers with gloves and other GK specific products along with sponsoring the league's annual Safe Hands Award. In addition goalWA.net, from Port Orchard, WA and owned by David Falk, provides all media services, website design and management along with sponsoring the league's annual goalKing Award. Ruffneck Scarves, from Seattle, WA and owned by Jeff McIntyre and Erin O'Brien, supports all of the league's clubs with world-class scarf designs and production along with sponsoring the league's promotional scarf. Additionally our league logo was designed by Viking Design Studios, a local company run by Timothy Hamilton and last year INWsoccerNews.com (Inland Northwest Soccer News) came on board to help with league coverage in Eastern Washington thanks to Gerald Barnhart. And last but not least, Code Four Athletics, from Kent, WA and managed by Mike Carter, has supported the league by providing sets of custom EPLWA-branded pinnies for each club to use during training and at player benches on the sideline for a super professional look during matches.
AP: How do the local communities seem to respond to the idea of having a soccer team in their town?
PO: Some of the local communities have really embraced their teams and have very active homegrown supporter groups who drum, sing, make tifos and create and sell their own SG merch, like t-shirts and scarves. In Bellingham, several breweries have showed their support of BUFC by brewing soccer specific beers in honor of the team named Yellow Card Ale, Full 90, Bellinghammer Wee Heavy and Soccer Mom Saison. It goes without saying, but craft beer is also a big part of Washington State, so again another great area for cross-promotion. Wenatchee FC (WFC) was bolstered by the Bridge Mafia supporter group and WFC participated in the annual Wenatchee Apple Blossom Parade, got great local radio coverage and had Numerica Bank as their jersey sponsor. Over at Yakima United FC, Zyrkle Fruit Company give away apples at matches, sponsored a scarf night and their supporters even established a YouTube channel. Many of the clubs have received front page sports section coverage from their local newspapers in Spokane, Yakima, Wenatchee, Vancouver, Bellingham, and Bremerton.
AP: What exactly do you do to help drum up support for the league?
PO: I always seek opportunities to talk to soccer and non-soccer people about EPLWA to increase their awareness of the league and their local clubs, players and businesses that are supporting their local club or the league. I'm also active on Twitter (@postrovsky) and I am constantly seeking ways to champion the league, clubs, players and coaches and other notable WA soccer events and topics that are trending.
I also do alot of brainstorming on promotional ideas either by myself and/or on the telephone with David Falk. One thing that we created this past season was an offensive and defensive Player of the Week (POTW) honor which was recognized with a timely league website article, tweets and Facebook postings and the awarding of each POTW with a custom pair of EPLWA WA State seal branded sport socks that were exclusively created for the league by Rock'em Apparel. This league honor really took off and attaining POTW status and getting a pair of the socks became highly coveted and competitive. Some of the clubs even turned their presentation of the socks to their POTW into mini-events, like Yakima United's gauntlet that their POTW would have to pass through at Thursday night training in order to receive his socks. POTW were proudly seen rocking their socks in posts on social media and strutting their stuff after matches and around their hometowns too.
AP: Are there particular challenges or hurdles to getting a league off the ground, and then ensuring it keeps running?
PO: The main challenge is sustainability for the clubs. So if there are no clubs, then there is no reason to have the league. So the league's philosophy is that all of the monies and capital should be with the clubs and not with the league. The league is responsible for structure, operation rules, a competition schedule, promotion and awards. That being said by rallying together volunteer staff and partners who make in-kind donations of products that support players, play and promotes the league and clubs, we are able to have a low annual league fee. So for the clubs, it's a great value and return on their investment. I use the word "investment" because for all of us this is about the long term.
AP: Why should the average soccer fan care about a league in Washington?
PO: I think that EPLWA serves as a model for other states that are looking to do something similar that is affordable and sustainable.
For the average soccer fan, especially for those in a large state like Washington State, because of the long travel distances coupled with traffic congestion, they may not be able to travel at will to Seattle to see the Sounders play. But if they attend their EPLWA club's home matches they are guaranteed to be entertained in their hometown and see their team play 7 other high-level amateur teams during a three month period in the spring/summer. Moreover while watching the 8 EPLWA clubs, soccer fans will be able to see the top 200 amateur players in Washington State. I would surmise that the same would be true elsewhere if there were to be similar leagues in other states.
AP: What do you think about the NPSL's attempt to build a division in the Northwest?
PO: I think there's room for everybody. I believe that NPSL Northwest would be more for clubs that have the means to travel greater distances and the desire to attain regional and national recognition. I would say that the same would be true for those NPSL club's business partners and sponsors. It's apples and oranges, but EPLWA is the apple.
AP: Where are all of the leagues teams currently located?
PO: Bellingham United FC (Bellingham, WA), Seattle Stars FC (Seattle, WA), South Sound FC (Tacoma, WA), Olympic Force (Bremerton, WA), Vancouver Victory FC (Vancouver, WA), Wenatchee FC (Wenatchee, WA), Yakima United FC (Yakima, WA) and Spokane Shadow (Spokane, WA). Bellingham, Tacoma, Bremerton and Vancouver are also playing indoors this winter in the Western Indoor Soccer League (WISL).
AP: Cast a vision for me: Where would you like to see the EPL in 5 years in terms of growth and visibility?
PO: My vision for EPLWA in 5 years, is that our original 8 clubs are still operating and have become fixtures and part of the local fabric in their own communities where everybody knows their name and fans can identify a player by name who has moved beyond their club and the league to play at a higher level. Hopefully at the same time we will come up with a formula to provide for expansion opportunities that maintain our high level of play while still fitting our competition schedule into our three month spring/summer season.
AP: Do you have any plans for expansion? I know you might not be able to answer that, but I have to ask.
PO: We've discussed it with the Board of Directors. But at this point we don't want to expand just for the sake of expansion and then end up watering down the competition level and/or bringing in clubs that can't sustain themselves in the long term.
AP: Bonus Questions: Who's your pick to win the MLS Cup this year?
PO: Dallas FC, they're young, fast, fearless and hungry.
AP: What's your favorite book, regardless of genre?
PO: My favorite book is The Killer Angels, a historical novel by Michael Shaara that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975. The book tells the story of the four days of the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War, and has multiple leadership lessons woven throughout that are applicable to my profession today.
AP: Very nice, the movie Gettysburg, based off that book, has been one of my favorites since I was 7. Who's your favorite current soccer player?
PO: I'm a big Brek Shea fan. He's a physical stud. He's tall like me, he's left footed, he's an artist and now he's a Dad. I'd like to buy one of his colorful paintings for our living room. I love seeing Brek play on the National Team and I'm glad that he came back to MLS to help launch Orlando City.
I'm also a Damarcus Beasley fan because of the courage he showed in playing for so long in Mexico and assimilating to their culture and learning the language.
Hey and I like Eddie Johnson too, why because he was from Florida, like me. I was the one that originally called him Demolition Man on Twitter after he bleached his hair and he was interviewed to that effect afterwards. Then during the 2013 Gold Cup against El Salvador, when he subbed, the play-by-play announcer called him Demolition Man, before and after he scored the header off of Landon Donovan's corner kick, so there I've made my mark. Ha.
AP: Do you have a favorite soccer book, movie or podcast?
PO: My favorite soccer book is The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro by Joe McGinniss, which has alot of color and flavor regarding lower division soccer in Italy and a surprise ending involving match-fixing and drug trafficking. My favorite soccer movie is Victory, a telltale sign of my age. My favorite podcast is actually not a podcast, but it's the closest thing, it's Alexi Lalas #InBedWithAlexi on Periscope. My favorite "real" podcast is The Best Soccer Show with Jason Davis and Jared Dubois. They have fresh perspectives. If you look closely at Jason Davis's recording studio on Youtube or on his Instagram you'll see an EPLWA scarf hanging on a chair behind him.
AP: What's your favorite league/team to watch and why?
PO: I love MLS, because it's ours, like Alexi Lalas says it's La Cosa Nostra, it's Our Thing. It's American, and at times rough and ugly but it has its' bright moments and an even brighter future. Being a very patriotic son of immigrants, I appreciate all of the internationals that come to play in MLS and to experience the Land of Opportunity and all that makes America great. Sorry Canada.
I'm a Sounders fan, but I find it more and more difficult to make it to matches because of the long drive and traffic congestion. I like to socialize (drink beer) before and after matches, so that's not very compatible with the long drive home, especially after they lose. Although this past May, I went to a four day adult camp with the Sounders and got to see alot of behind the scenes stuff, meet coaches and players, experience First Team training drills/sessions and even play a match at CenturyLink Field. I highly recommend it.
I also found Orlando City intriguing with Kaka and Brek Shea. I watched most of their games on MLS Live. Truth be told, if I was still living in Florida, I'd be an Orlando City fan. Sorry Strikers. My wife loves purple so it would be a beautiful thing.
AP: Where can people find out more about yourself and the EPL? (I can put links in later if you'd like)
PO: Check out www.eplwa.com and peruse the entire website. The content that goalWA.net and David Falk have created is top notch. Also check us out on Facebook and Twitter. A couple of unique things to look for are the EPLWA Minute videos and EPLWA Hometown videos, along with graphics showing the week's scheduled matches, match results and POTW graphics.
If you really want to read about me and get a glimpse of some of what I have done professionally, Google my name and Operation Frozen Timber or check out Rolling Stone magazine, Issue 1182, from May 2013 and read the Boss Weed story to learn about what me and my band of merry men were up against back in 2006 in the Pacific Northwest. Also stay tuned to NatGeo this Fall, as I'm supposed to be on a show about the Vancouver Canada drug trade. Sorry Canada.
AP: Thanks for all of your time in doing this interview Peter. As always, don't forget to follow American Pyramid on Facebook and also on Twitter for the latest and greatest of what's going on and what's coming up, and don't forget to comment with any questions you might have, because who knows, your question might just get featured on American Pyramid. Until next time.