Tuesday, August 10, 2021
Though he is a newer face to the Spokane Sounders, new Boys Director of Coaching Jay Vela is a fixture in Spokane soccer from his outstanding playing career that transitioned directly into his coaching career.
Through his early years of playing for Express, Flames and River City, Vela bounced back and forth in age groups, playing up two years at one point, as he competed at the highest level in the state and eventually reaching the state semifinals at U14. He finished his club career with Falcons while also starting to make a splash in the high school ranks for Central Valley.
Vela spent his freshman campaign with JV, but was called in as a back-up for the postseason. The following year would prove to be his breakout with 16 goals and a district title. The progression continued with 22 tallies as a junior, another district title and a state quarterfinal appearance. Though he was First Team GSL and one of the top offensive players in the league as a senior with 17 strikes, it ultimately ended in disappointment as they fell in the district final.
Vela’s success led to a college stint at CC Spokane, where his career really made headlines.
In the 2006 campaign he tallied the NWAC’s third highest goal total (16) as he led Spokane up the table to second in the East Division of the league, earning All-Star recognition. The following year he was NWAC MVP with a league-leading 61 points, ranking second in goals with 26, as he guided the Bigfoot to the division title (14-3-1) and a postseason run to the league final.
“My sophomore year I was the league MVP and we lost in the final in overtime on a golden goal. I was hurt in the final and could barely run, but still played the game.”
He was also second in assists that year with nine. Second to… Jesse Retan (Peninsula College).
“I wish Jesse had stayed in Spokane and played with me! I probably would’ve had 10 more goals,” Vela said with a laugh. “I was happy to see Jesse’s success and I was also happy to beat Peninsula in the semifinal. Jesse was a great player and my age, and I was eventually able to play with him in the PDL.”
Unfortunately, that was it for Vela’s collegiate career. A time he remembers with a bit of regret.
“My time in college was interesting to say the least. I had really made strides physically and mentally and my passion for the game was at an all-time high. I just wish I would’ve been more mature at the time and taken the education piece more seriously. I gave up DI offers because I lacked in school. I learned a lot from my mistakes. I will always wonder what could’ve been.”
His soccer career was not quite over though.
“I was done playing competitively after college but I knew that I still had a fire for the game. I couldn’t walk away and believe me, I tried. My first-ever training session working with the kids, I knew that this was my true calling. I may have been a decent footballer, but I was even better with the kids. I will always have a part of the game in me, even when I’m “retired.”
A dozen years deep into coaching now, Vela started with Elite before going to FC Spokane and is back with Spokane Sounders for a second time while also on staff with Washington Youth Soccer. He quickly made an impression.
“I was promoted to FC Spokane Director of Coaching at age 25. As far as I’m aware, I was the youngest ever DoC in Spokane.”
“I enjoy doing what I love. I enjoy teaching kids and building relationships with the players that will last a lifetime. I love see the growth over time of the players. I just love football!
“I enjoy coaching my 8-year old daughter and sharing my love for the game with her,” added the father of two. Family is everything to me!
That includes a bit of rivalry with his brother Blaze, a fellow coach.
“There was definitely a bit of sibling rivalry in everything we did as kids, and that hasn’t changed as adults. We push each other to be better every single day we step on the pitch.