Justin and Nicole Stoddard recently connected over soccer.
No, the Wauna couple didn’t just meet; in fact, they’ve been married for 19 years. It’s just that for the last six years they’ve been pulled in such different directions supporting their kids’ daily and nightly sports schedules across the Puget Sound, they barely saw each other.
Now that their daughter, Kadence, a 2022 Peninsula High School graduate, is a red-shirt freshman volleyball player at Cal Poly Humboldt in Arcata, Calif., that just leaves their 14-year-old son Leiston to follow around.
“We were so far apart for so long,” said Nicole jokingly about her husband. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
The scheduling is only going to get harder, but at least the supportive parents will be together.
Leiston, an eighth grader at Key Peninsula Middle School and one of the best young soccer stars in the country, was recently named to U.S. Youth Soccer’s prestigious National Select team. He is one of only 18 players in the country in his age group, selected after a long, rigorous tryout process. The team was whittled down from nearly 1,000 players during state, regional and national competitions in 2022.
Leiston’s first tournament with his new team was at the Mayor’s Cup in Las Vegas last month (results were not available at press time). The National Select team is just one of the many soccer clubs that take up most of Leighton’s and his parents’ weeknights and weekends — and they couldn’t be happier.
For the Stoddard boys, soccer is in their blood.
For Nicole, she was kind of thrust into it. “I hated soccer, but I married into a soccer family. I can’t get rid of it,” she said.
Then there’s Justin, who can’t get enough of it. He was drafted by the Seattle Sounders when he was still in high school and played soccer professionally for about five years before a series of knee injuries grudgingly caused him to call it quits.
To stay involved with a game he played since he was 3 years old, Justin turned his attention to coaching. He had stints with the Kitsap SC Pumas, coached Leiston on the Harbor Soccer and Crossfire Redmond club teams, and was head coach at Peninsula High School in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic quickly put an end to any spring sports that year.
For now, his focus is being a soccer dad to Leiston, but that doesn’t mean “Coach Stoddard” doesn’t come out once in a while.
“I’ve calmed down, but it’s hard when you’ve been through it yourself and you can see the talent Leiston has,” said Justin, who admits his sideline antics have waned from yelling instructions to more subtle hand signals, to now waiting until the car ride home to give feedback. “My job is to challenge him.”
Leiston is now in the running to level up to the prestigious Sounders FC Academy. The academy is where some of the most talented players in the country go to train and play, and maybe eventually sign a professional contract with the Seattle Sounders FC. Leiston will hear if he makes the team in May, but he can wait.
Going pro is his ultimate goal, but for now Leiston is just enjoying time with his Puyallup-based club team, the Washington Premier Football Club. His skills helped him land a spot on a team with older kids — some bigger, faster and stronger than Leiston.
“But he’s got the biggest heart,” WPFC Coach Michael Donne said. “His head is 100% in it, and if anyone doubts that Leiston will prove them wrong.”
A normal teenager would be at-risk for getting burned out doing the same thing almost every day of the week. Not Leiston. He understands there’s a price to pay for playing soccer all year long.
“I feel like my passion for the sport has grown,” he said. “I just enjoy going around to play a sport I love.”
Justin and Nicole are also well aware soccer comes at a price. Literally.
Playing competitive club sports isn’t cheap. There are the monthly fees for the club and buying and replacing gear for a growing boy, but according to Nicole, what really hurts the wallet is all the travel costs. In addition to his first tournament last month in Las Vegas, Leiston was in San Diego last June with his WPFC team, and had trips to Utah and Colorado last summer and Florida in November for U.S. National Select team tryouts. In December and January, he played in tournaments in Missouri and Arizona with his WPFC team. Justin and Nicole try to tag along when they can, but they also like the fact that Leiston is gaining some independence when traveling with his Washington Premier team.
“A big part of his growth is being able to do things on his own,” said Justin. “He’s learning when he needs to get off his phone and go to bed, how to eat right and get prepared for his games without mom and dad. It’s getting him ready for college.”
Nicole added that with traveling, scheduling and prioritizing she and Justin have been able to work through a lot of life skills with their kids.
Though he has an irregular amount of independence, he’s still just a teenager. He hangs out with his friends, plays video games and watches TV shows with his parents. Leiston enjoys playing basketball and hitting golf balls when he can. And when his schedule allows, he joins his parents on their monthly 24-hour round trip drive to visit Kadence at her college.
“Leiston’s a pretty happy-go-lucky kid,” said Nicole. “He’s always been a busy kid who likes to go, go, go.”
The Key Peninsula now has the opportunity to find its next Leiston Stoddard. Last fall the Harbor Soccer Club brought the program over to Key Peninsula for 4- to 7-year-olds. Nearly 40 kids practiced and played at Volunteer Park. The club is expanding the program to 8-year-olds in 2023.
The organization is looking for players, coaches and sponsors to consider broadening the age range in the future, said Larry Kalahiki, Harbor Soccer’s director of business development. Those interested can email Kalahiki.
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