Woodburn's Justin Shaw will represent the United States in the foosball World Cup
In the back recesses of Beaverton's SuperPlay bowling and gaming center, in an alcove behind the shoe rentals, several dozen men and women are crammed into a tight space with a dozen foosball tables, taking part in the annual Moneyball tournament.
The table soccer competition is an annual event that draws some of the greatest players in the country, including Woodburn's own Justin Shaw, an Iowa transplant who made the Pacific Northwest his home nearly a decade ago.
A member of Team USA, Shaw is less than a month away from representing the United States in the International Table Soccer Federation's 2017 World Cup.
"We do this like 12 to 14 hours a day during tournaments," Shaw said on a Saturday night in February. Although relatively small in size, the Moneyball tournament still brings in table soccer superstars such as World Champion Tony Spredeman, Ryan Moore and Rob Mares — giants in the world of foosball.
The Moneyball tournament goes for three days over the weekend and Shaw takes part in a number of different draws, from singles, doubles, mixed doubles and more.
But when he goes to Hamburg, Germany next month to take on the best international players in the world, he'll be doing so strictly as a doubles player, where he is currently ranked 110th in the world standings and 14th in the United States.
It will be his second trip represented the United States at the ITSF World Cup, which takes place every two years. In 2015, he and doubles partner Moore competed in Turin, Italy — home to the 2006 Winter Olympics — where they placed ninth overall in the men's doubles competition.
"I usually play goalie," Shaw said. "It's a lot less glamorous. It's like in soccer, it's very similar in that the big goal scorers are going to get most of the recognition."
Whereas a soccer pitch can be upwards of 120 yards long, a foosball table is less than five feet in length, so it takes lightning reflexes to be able to play defense in a sport that is dominated on the offensive end.
"The velocity gets upward of 35 to 40 miles per hour," Shaw said. "They rock it back and snap it, and that puts a lot of speed on it."
Shaw got introduced to the game decades ago in his basement, playing on a table his dad bought and learning how to maneuver the ball, pass between players and set up offense instead of wildly swinging the bars the way most people play.
"I won money once and I was completely hooked," Shaw said. "I don't know how to describe the experience. To win and have fun and make money all at the same time — I was completely hooked after that moment."
As difficult as it can be to control the ball, professional players such as Shaw can almost suck the ball into their players, where they can pass it back and forth with the ease of playing a game of catch.
"It's very magnetic," Shaw said. "You're visually trying to throw energy onto the table, so as soon as that ball comes into your zone, it's like a magnet onto it."
From there, controlling the ball is a delicate game of cat and mouse with the opposing player.
"There are very subtle things that happen," Shaw said. "Little spins in certain directions. People have favorite places to swing at and you can break spaces down into percentages."
It becomes a mental game between players, who can hold onto the ball for upwards of 10 to 20 seconds, waiting for an opponents' break in concentration.
"Ultimately, possession is the game," said Shaw's partner, Laura Constante, who not only works at Nellie Muir Elementary School, but actually met Shaw on the foosball circuit. "If you break it down like soccer, the more possession you have, the more you control the game."
As such, it's not surprising that soccer-crazed Europe is a hot bed for foosball and the home of the ITSF World Cup.
"Some of those countries take it very seriously, in their minds it's no different than soccer. They treat it differently than we do here," Shaw said. "In the big consciousness here, it's kind of a bar sport and doesn't get a whole lot of respect."
That all changes when Shaw and Team USA crosses the Atlantic next month to compete in the World Cup on April 10-16, where Shaw and Moore look to improve on their finish and bring home a gold medal for the United States.
For more information on foosball and to follow the United States at the 2017 ITSF World Cup, go to teamusafoosball.org.