When he was roaming the midfield for the Robert Morris University Colonials Men's Soccer team, Neil Shaffer '11 had a nice view of campus from the North Athletic Complex. But it was nothing compared to the vista he woke up to every day last year in Bremerton, Washington.
"Bremerton is beautiful," says Shaffer. "It's right on the Pugent Sound, and about an hour ferry ride from downtown Seattle. From my apartment I could see the mountains and the ocean, and just a drive down the road I could see Mt. Rainier."
A graduate of RMU's bachelor of arts in media arts program, Shaffer played soccer in the Pacific Northwest last season as a member of the Kitsap Pumas of the United Soccer League's Premier Development League (PDL), the top developmental men’s league in North America. There he captained the Pumas to the Ruffneck Championship, a tournament between all the PDL teams in the state of Washington.
Shaffer started as an outside midfielder at RMU and then moved to central midfield during his senior season. That same year he led the team in goals with (6) and points (15) and was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Men's Division I All-North Atlantic Regional Third Team and All-Northeast Conference Second Team. After graduating, he served as an assistant coach for the Colonials and played two seasons as center midfielder with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
After finishing his second season with the Riverhounds, Shaffer had interest from Pittsburgh and other teams across the country. During a tryout in Minnesota, one of his teammates told him about Kitsap.
"I ended up calling them up, and fortunately, they were looking for a central midfielder. So after a little talking, we were able to work out a deal, and the next thing I knew, I drove out to Washington."
Although moving across country was a big step for him, Shaffer says it was a great experience overall. The community was very friendly, and the fan base was amazing. They really made you feel at home."
Throughout his career, Shaffer says that every time he's gone up a level, whether it's from high school to college, or college to the pros, the game becomes sharper and faster.
"The pace of the game is quicker and players technically are more capable on the ball," he says. "Playing in the NEC, though, helped me tremendously in the transition."
Shaffer only signed a one-year deal with the Pumas, so as of now his options are open.
"The next season won't start until around January or February of next year, so I have time," he says. "In this sport, things change day to day. We had a pretty good season, and my play got me some interest from several USL and NASL teams. I just have to keep working in the off-season, and then we'll see what happens."
Written by Valentine J. Brkich
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