Max Lipset is a Minnesota soccer player but these days, he’s finding the Pacific Northwest his home. Lipset’s journey has taken him from the Midwest to the West Coast, back to the East and eventually to the Pacific Northwest. In the process, Lipset has also had a tactical move switching from forward to defender. All those changes are just fine with Lipset, as long as he’s playing professional soccer. Lipset is very happy with his current team, the Kitsap Pumas of United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League, but he’s hoping that the Kitsap team is only the beginning of his pro career.
The Kitsap Pumas are a first year PDL club, with USL ambition. The group came together under the leadership and financial backing of Robin Waite, the former Seattle Sounders owner, and through the diligence of club executive director Ben Pecora. The organization held two tryouts in the spring, which drew several hundred people from all over the country as well as England, Scotland, and France. From that group the coaching staff selected 18 players whom they offered professional contracts. The Kitsap Pumas are one of five professional clubs in the PDL, meaning the players can get paid for playing but give up all NCAA eligibility. Most PDL teams are not paid therefore allowing the players to keep their NCAA eligibility.
Lipset graduated from St.Paul Academy in 2003, where he played varsity all four years. He was one of only two freshmen to do that since Leo Cullen and Manny Lagos. He was a two-time all-conference and two-time all-state player. He also made the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press all-metro team.
Lipset reminisced on his days at SPA. “I have to say my best memories at SPA were as a younger player, my sophomore year in particular,” stated Lipset. “We had a half dozen members of the Tsunami Gold team in our junior and senior classes. Brett Brannan, Cheng Meng Vang, Peter Stenson, Zach Thompson, Joe Wertz were all members of that team. Those are my guys and I had a great time playing with them. However, my junior year, Joe Wertz and I combined for 44 goals, I also fed him with assists for 15 goals. There were a lot of great times that year. Losing to Edina in double overtime three out of my four years in the Section finals used to stand out. I think they won the State Tourney all three of those years. That all seems like a lifetime ago.”
Lipset also enjoyed his club days where he played with NSSA Rovers from U11 to U14. “I’ll always have a lot of love for those guys and I’ll never forget winning the U11 State championships,” reflected Lipset. “We used to do battle with Blaine, Wayzata and St. Croix and I used to get up for those games in a serious way. I really played for the day and for the shirt then and I had great friends on the Rovers. Dan O’Brien who now plays for the Thunder was a late addition to that team.”
Lipset says he remembers games against St. Croix and Wayzata that were particularly competitive: Matt Goldberg and Abraham Voyen along with Lipset “played out of our minds,” according to Lipset. “I think that’s why St. Croix picked us up for our U-15 year when we all joined together to become the St. Croix Red Storm,” said Lipset. “We had a great team but lacked a lot of maturity, as most teams do at that age. Andrew Peterson (MN Thunder), Dale Weiler (MN Thunder), Dan Horst, Yeow Aning, Blake Wojski, Mike Blythe, Matt & Abraham, Jon Williams, and Ryan O were all members of that team.
Lipset spent time in ODP (Olympic Development Program) playing with another current Thunder player, Brian Kallman. He also said he always felt the ODP process was pretty biased. “I was in and out of that team depending on who the coach was that year and what their impression of me was,” said Lipset. “Looking back on it, it was what it was and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to play with good players.”
Lipset says he loved playing high school and club soccer but he now realizes he was too distracted. “I scored a lot of goals in high school and in general playing high school soccer was the best part of my school year every year,” said Lipset. “At that age, many things distracted me and my mental approach to the game was very inconsistent. It’s difficult when you feel like you have a whole career ahead of you to really take things one day at a time but that’s the way you have to be as a professional player. This was something that continued to hold me back even in college.”
After high school Lipset went to UW Madison under the impression that Jeff Rohrman would give him the opportunity to play with the Badgers. Lipset said that didn’t work out and he was unhappy with the size of his classes. He transferred to Claremont-McKenna College in Los Angeles, where Dan Calichman, former Galaxy captain and US National Team player, welcomed him into his program as a transfer. He had recruited Lipset as a high school player, so he was already familiar with Lipset.
Claremont was a good fit for Lipset where he experienced undergraduate life, but like many freshman and sophomores, he wasn’t as committed to soccer as he now knows he should have been. “It wasn’t until my junior year that I really went to work on my game,” said Lipset. “I played with the Yakima Reds that summer in the NW PDL and had a much more successful college season for it.”
Along Lipset’s journey as a player he’s also learned about differing stages of physical maturity for players. In fact he says its a lesson he’s still learning. “I am only now realizing how hard it is to get the most out of your talent, athleticism and training, until you are mature physically and mentally,” said the Kitsap player. “That helps explain why you see so many guys who are national team players at 15, 16, and 17 who end up not having a professional career because they burn out, or have other players catch up with them and they’re still stuck where they were at 16 thinking they have the game figured out. Even players who have successful high school careers have the same problem because the game is much different as you start progressing to different levels. Eventually, you understand not just how to play, but how to compete and really do what the game requires on any given day.”
In preparing for his senior year in college Lipset says he worked out every day that summer at Calichman’s gym, CATZ, where he regularly trained with many current MLS players. Lipset’s senior year was by far his best collegiate year and he led the league in goals and was recognized as an all-conference selection, but he still hadn’t completely physically matured.
After graduating, Lipset said he grew an inch and gained 25 lb. of muscle, which has made him into a different player and athlete. When he tried out at the Thunder combine this winter he ran a 4.7 40-yd dash. He says the maturation was natural but also the product of hard work. “I hit the gym in a new way and committed myself to training full time after I graduated in the fall of 2007,” said Lipset. “During the summer and fall of 2008, I prepared for my first professional tryouts by training 6 days a week and playing in the LA Premier League for Artesia DES and the Matadores FC. This is a league that is packed with quality teams like Hollywood United and the LA Blues. I also started training with Aleks Markosvski, a former European professional and USSR player turned personal trainer without whom I would have never have survived the series of tryouts that eventually landed me in Kitsap. He completely changed my sense of being an athlete and mental approach to the game and also made me into a center back.”
In December, Lipset attended the Vancouver Whitecaps and Harrisburg City Islanders combine. Trying out as a forward, he was in the final group of 14, in which 10 players were invited to preseason with Harrisburg and one to preseason with Vancouver.
His next tryout was with the Austin Aztexs in Ventura, CA. “Ron Dennie, the Aztex PDL coach moved me to center back and I got a lot of great feedback from him at that position,” said Lipset. “He said he had confidence in my ability to play that position at the USL level. From that time on, I continued my tryouts exclusively as a center back. The Austin tryout was very well run. There were about 50 guys trying out and lots of coaches evaluating.”
After Austin, Lipset went to Portland for a tryout where 150 players competed at their invitational tryout. Six of them later signed with Kitsap. While there, Lipset had a reunion with his old high school coach, Amos Magee. “I made it to the final day in which only thirty players were invited,” said Lipset. “I wasn’t offered a contract or invited to preseason but it was great to see Amos Magee for the first time in five years.”
Lipset’s journey then brought him back to Minnesota for the Thunder combine where he received good feedback from Donny Gramenz. “He invited me to play in a scrimmage against Shattuck St. Mary’s the weekend following and he gave me more good feedback,” said Lipset.
He was asked to play with the Rochester PDL team for the season so Gramenz could watch him grow and develop. Later, Neil Cassidy offered Lipset a roster spots on the Rochester Thunder, but the newly converted defensive center back decided to leave his options open.
After Minnesota, Leon Abravanel, whom Lipset had met in Austin and Portland, persuaded Lipset to go to Wilmington, NC to tryout for the Hammerheads. Lipset didn’t mince words with his frustration with the Hammerhead tryout. “The tryout was unpleasant because out of the 70 players there, only about 15 could really play. Leon and I were strung along and they asked us to come out to preseason. Then they told us they had no money and no space for us to come back.”
Then luck came Lipset’s way, along with a lot of hard work. “Finally, I heard about a tryout for a PDL team in Washington, near Seattle, where my Mom has lived since 2004,” said a very happy Lipset. “I heard they were going to pay their players standard contracts and provide them with housing. So, I said, why not? If I’m going to play in the PDL, I might as well check it out.”
Lipset was not disappointed in this tryout. “When I got here, I found myself playing with ex-Sounders guys, and a lot of other quality players, and I also received a lot of support from the coach, John Wedge,” stated Lipset. “They offered me a contract after the second day of tryouts and of course, I accepted it.”
“I flew back down to LA, moved out and drove up the next week,” explained Lipset. “We spent a month in preseason in April, which most PDL teams don’t do. Then, we started our season a couple of weeks ago. We’re off to a great start. 4-0-1. Our goal differential is 13-2. I’ve played every minute of every game at center back and my coach tells me I’m getting better with every game.”
Lipset says he would like to come back to Minnesota to play for the Thunder after this PDL season, but if that didn’t happen, he wouldn’t mind staying with his current club. “The Pacific NW is a matchless place to be as a player right now,” said Lipset. “Really, it’s an incredible place to be involved in the game at any level. With the huge success that the Sounders are having in their transition to MLS and with Portland and Vancouver hoping to follow suit in 2011, there is an incredible interest in the game here, as well as the resources to sustain lots of high-level teams and players. Having experienced youth and amateur levels elsewhere in the country, I don’t hesitate in saying that this is a serious hotbed for the game right now and I’m grateful to be here in the midst of it.”
Lipset explained in more detail his teams season thus far. “We just had our fifth game of the season last night,” said an excited Lipset. “We played our cross-town rivals, the Seattle Wolves at their home field in front of a crowd of 500. The funny thing was that the crowd was 80% Pumas’ fans. The Wolves are a very good team with plenty of ex-Sounders players and youth national team players on their roster. We notched two goals in the first 65 minutes and then held them (Wolves) off for the last 25 minutes of the game. It was quite a game!”
The Pumas undefeated record puts them at the top of the table with a game in hand on the Portland Timbers U23s, who they played at home on Saturday winning 1-0. The victory against the Timbers U-23 team brought the Kitsap Pumas to 5-0-1.
The Kitsap Pumas next play the Timbers first team on Tuesday, June 9, 2009, in the first round of the US Open Cup. “The game against the USL-1 Timbers will be awesome and I’m looking forward to playing the Timbers first team very much,” said Lipset. “Especially because Amos (Magee) is their AC. Amos coached me in high school and was the first coach to suggest that I play defense.”
The Minnesota Thunder should keep a close eye on the Kitsap Puma central defender. If they don’t, there’s a good chance that a former Thunder player and coach working for Portland and in charge of player development will be keeping tabs on the young Minnesota native.
Watch USL Live.com for Kitsap Puma games. As well, games are televised online through Seattle Wolves TV and on-demand versions can be found by Going Here.