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International Women's Day Spotlight: Midlakes United

By Staff, 03/08/24, 11:30AM EST


A soccer club run by women - not a women's soccer club

As Justi Baumgardt approaches the touch line on May 19 against Lane United FC, she won't be thinking about the fact that she's the first female coach of a USL men's senior team, at any level. She won't be thinking about the fact that she was hired by Treencee Russell, Founder and GM of Midlakes United, a new expansion club in the Seattle area.

"I think I'm just going to be focused on what we need to do in that first game, and making sure that our team is ready, that we're prepared," Baumgardt said. "And I'm sure I'm going to be nervous. It's my first game, and it's not because of mine and Treencee [Russell]'s situation, but because I want our team to be successful."

This part of Baumgardt's career was a long time in the making. From 1993 to 1998, she made 16 appearances for the United States Women's National Team, scoring three goals and adding two assists from midfield. She scored goals against Australia, South Korea and Ukraine, starting alongside legends like Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain.

After her time with the USWNT, she played professionally for what is now California Storm in the USL W League, as well as Washington Freedom, New York Power and the Seattle Sounders Women.

Following the end of her playing career, alongside becoming a parent, Baumgardt has been hard at work coaching in the Pacific Northwest. 

Justi Baumgardt, head coach of Midlakes United, during her playing days

Enter Treencee Russell, a parent of soccer players herself, who has been seeking a way to make an impact on the soccer scene in Seattle.

"When I started this process a year and a half ago, I was [asking myself], 'Okay, what's the next thing I could do in this ecosystem of soccer that I love, and the choices that I made within the context of those thoughts led me [to USL League Two]," Russell said. "There was never a moment, I don't know if anyone said to me 'Oh, you're going to be a woman-owned team'. We didn't set out to go break down barriers, this was just a logical next step for me and for this club."

As 2023 wore on, and plans for a club materialized, Russell needed a head coach. Baumgardt was a local already, with coaching experience under her belt. She had all the experience, qualifications, and personality that Russell was looking for.

"Justi rose to the top because she has a [U.S. Soccer] B license, she has tons of both playing and coaching experience, and so it was kind of a no brainer. There aren't very many people in that position," Russell said.

So, in late 2023, Baumgardt got the call to be the first head coach of Midlakes United. She got straight to work assembling a roster. It currently consists of players from college teams in the region, including University of Washington, Seattle University and the University of Portland. She said the environment of tryouts and the build-up to the season has been among the best she's experienced.

Justi Baumgardt leads tryouts for Midlakes United

"When we had our tryouts, I had my male staff out there," Baumgardt said. "[The players] came directly to me first to thank me for having them at the tryout. I have to say, that's a huge breath of fresh air... I had a time where I was coaching a boys team, and the referee comes over to me to ask when the coach was going to be there."

She said she does feel some pressure to perform well, just by the fact that there are so few women leading senior men's teams in the world, but she tries not to think about it.

"I know Treencee, we want to prove to people that it can be done, and that we can be successful. And you know, it takes time, obviously, to build a program. I mean, we've got a great staff, I've got great support, and with that, I have a lot of confidence in us," Baumgardt said.

As the Midlakes duo prepares to take on their first season in USL League Two, they reflect on the people that helped them get to this point, pioneers for women in sport that pushed boundaries before them. For Russell, that list includes Baumgardt.

"In a lot of ways, because of her lived experience, she paved the way for what I can do now," Russell said. "And when I start thinking about that, that's when I can get emotional. And it's true! They didn't just pave the way for players, or for women's sports, they paved the way for all of us."

Now, the attention shifts to the start of the season. Midlakes United will play two road matches, first against Lane United and then against defending champions Ballard FC, before the club's home opener on May 31st against United PDX.

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