Rusch leaves Falcon boys soccer for chance at professional league

Falcon girls soccer head coach and boys soccer assistant coach Ben Rusch is stepping down this spring to pursue a professional soccer career.  - Ben Watanabe / Record file
Falcon girls soccer head coach and boys soccer assistant coach Ben Rusch is stepping down this spring to pursue a professional soccer career.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / Record file

It was now or never for Ben Rusch.

The Falcon girls soccer head coach and assistant boys soccer coach will take this spring to focus on his own soccer career.

“I just realized that I have to do this. If I don’t, I’m just going to regret it,” Rusch said.

“It’s kind of to the point where I want to give it a go for the next two years, maybe three, then shift gears to the next phase of my life.”

Rusch is trying out for several professional soccer clubs in the Puget Sound area, which begin their seasons in March. By doing so, he’s giving up a different facet of the same game.

Last spring was Rusch’s first high school coaching job. The 23-year-old SWHS alumnus led the junior varsity team and assisted long-time varsity boys soccer coach Joel Gerlach.

The Falcon boys varsity soccer squad went to the district playoffs and finished 8-9 overall. Rusch was instrumental, Gerlach said, in the team’s late success and a string of five wins.

“I think it’s fun for the younger guys when somebody closer to their age can be on the field with them,” Rusch said.

The junior varsity team was 7-3-1 overall, and cultivated a handful of players Gerlach looked forward to seeing try out in March. One season prior to Rusch’s arrival, the JV Falcons scored an average of less than two goals per game, while their opponents poured in more than four.

In 11 games in 2011, Rusch’s JV squad averaged more than four goals per game, and allowed a little more than one goal a game.

“He has just a ton of energy — that’s going to be missed,” Gerlach said.

“It’s going to be a transition for the kids because they really like Ben.”

Rusch’s departure after only a year with the team had Gerlach’s blessing. Gerlach admitted, however, it was difficult to have Rusch leave after only one season together, given he was a former Falcon.

“Having somebody that came through your program contribute back to it is just huge,” Gerlach said.

As a former player at South Whidbey, Rusch was coached by Gerlach during his varsity years, where Rusch became an intimidating center defender.

“I’m all in favor of it,” Gerlach said. “If an athlete from my program can get paid to play and make it in the pros, that would be just a feather in my cap.”

“He’s got a chance to really take it to the next level.”

“It’s one of those things where later in life, I wouldn’t want him to have the regret and say ‘I had a chance to do this and didn’t,’” Gerlach added.

Rusch is trying out for three teams in the Premier Development League: Washington Crossfire (Redmond), Kitsap Pumas (Bremerton) and North Sound SeaWolves (Edmonds). There are more than 60 teams across the country in the league, split into four divisions. Last year, the Pumas won the United Soccer League PDL championship.

Rusch spent the past two months working out with the Crossfire in Redmond, and played for the state’s top amateur team in the Starfire Premier League.

Playing soccer is his passion more than his profession, he said. He practices ball-handling five days each week and works out daily.

“At this point in my life, it’s one of the main things that really gets me excited and I can focus on in the long term,” Rusch said.

Rusch said he has not spent a season away from soccer since he was 5 years old. And that streak will continue, even if it’s away from coaching soccer this spring.

“It’s been pretty steady. I almost quit right before high school, and I’m glad I didn’t,” he said.

“Soccer’s something I’ll probably do forever, whether it’s professional or playing or coaching. I’ll probably play until I can’t walk anymore.”

His potential new position as a professional center defender won’t affect the girls program. Should Rusch make one of the teams and accept the contract, the season will end in early August, prior to the start of the girls soccer season.

Leaving now doesn’t mean the opportunity to return is closed, either.

Gerlach, who said he had grand plans for Rusch and him with the Falcons this season (a state tournament run), imagines Rusch may find his way back to South Whidbey.

“I don’t know that Ben won’t come back to us,” Gerlach said.

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