On Sunday, June 3, things weren’t looking so hot for Team Cascadia. It was halftime during their final match of the group stage. Their maiden appearance at the CONIFA (Confederation of Independent Football Associations) World Cup had been middling so far: a 4-1 loss and a 2-1 victory. Now, though they were up 2-0 on Tamil Eelam, a proposed independent state in Sri Lanka, they needed to score 4 more goals to make the quarterfinals. Winning 6-0 at any level of soccer is rare, so nothing short of a Cascadian miracle would suffice. The 200 or so mostly local onlookers in London’s Canary Wharf neighborhood were, presumably, on pins and needles.
The CONIFA World Cup is a knock-out style tournament for soccer associations not recognized by FIFA. You know, the folks behind the actual World Cup, which kicks off in Russia on June 14. (Team America didn't make it, which is sad.) From Abkhazia, an autonomous territory in Georgia, to Matabeleland, a historical region in modern-day Zimbabwe, teams trot the globe to play “the beautiful game” and show off their true colors even if they aren’t emblazoned on an officially sanctioned flag.
Cascadia, as you probably know, is our not-yet-realized supercountry composed of British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. (Some folks would also include Idaho and Northern California.) A decades-old movement, free Cascadia has gained popularity in recent years—if not as a true secessionist movement, then as a symbolic stance in favor of a sort of squishy, green, Pacific Northwest pride. Per its CONIFA webpage, the team’s ambition is “to allow Cascadia as distinct cultural entity, isolated bioregion and growing society with common interests to be represented at the international level in the sport we are all passionate about.’”
Getting the team to the CONIFA World Cup was an accomplishment in itself. While flattered by the invitation to join, team president Aaron Johnsen faced a small logistical problem: he didn’t have, at that point, a coach or a team. The eventual squad—a mix of Cascadian kids, British nationals with ties to the region, and Pacific Northwest transplants—didn’t meet each other until a training session in London one day before its first match in late May.
Cascadia's coach, James Nichols, plies his trade for the small English club, Kimball Town FC, and despite his un-Cascadian resume, he’s provided the passion and know-how to see the team through to the knock-out round. Led on the pitch by Josh Doughty, a Vancouver-born former Manchester United Academy prospect, and former Seattle Sounder James Riley, they’ve dispatched Barawa and Tamil Eelam after losing their inaugural game to the Isle of Man. Though none of the players are overtly political—club president Aaron Johnson is emphatically non-secessionist, and some team members have loose connections to Cascadia (like "aunt-in-PDX" loose)—the chance to compete under the Cascadian flag was irresistible.
And in the end, Team Cascadia did make magic happen. Buoyed by inspirational play from Riley, the team’s oldest player, it indeed managed to score four second-half goals—the last two golden daggers coming after an 80th-minute red card had reduced them to 10 men. These heroics earned them a spot in the quarterfinal on Tuesday, June 5. Sadly the upstarts were outplayed and ousted by Karpatalya, a team representing the Hungarian diaspora in Ukraine.
Luckily, you have two more chances to watch the Cascadia team play. Following Tuesday’s difficult 3-1 defeat in the quarterfinal, the Cascadian crew will play a consolation game against Western Armenia on Thursday, June 7. (Check the Cascadian Football homepage for live streaming info as well as highlights of the previous matches.)
If you want to support the team, you can buy the kits here. All proceeds go to the club and to reimburse a few generous supporters who ponied up the airfare so the kids could play. As is the Cascadian way.