09/19/2012 8:11 AM
One glance at Bellingham United FC’s Justin Diener and you wouldn’t guess that the defensive back is one of the veterans of the team. Whether it be on or off the pitch, the 32 year old seems to be just as youthful as his fellow Hammer teammates. Take one look at his resume however and you will find professional stints with teams like the California Gold and even Bellingham’s old PCSL team, the Marlins. Mix that with college experience at both Sonoma St and Western Washington University and you have yourself someone who has been involved with the game in one way or the other for nearly 15 years.
As we approach the 2013 season, Justin Diener is ready to take on a new role with the Hammers, assisting Head Coach Lance Calloway as a player/coach. I caught up with Justin recently to talk a little bit about his new role as well as what his life in soccer means to him now as a Hammer.
Brandon Enyeart: To start things off, last year was a big year for Bellingham soccer players and fans with the success of Bellingham United F.C. What was the biggest thing you took away from it?
Justin Diener: The biggest thing I took away from it was the fan support and then the team. We had perfect chemistry from Jeff (McIntyre, Owner) to Coach Calloway down to all the players we picked and who we brought in along the way. There were never any big issues and I hope that showed on the field.
BE: You’ve represented Bellingham in the past, how was it walking into the stadium the first time as a Hammer?
JD: Yeah, I mean I have been in and around this league (Pacific Coast Soccer League) for 15 years or so and when everyone said they were expecting 1,000+ fans, I thought that would be awesome, but my expectations were a little down just because of previous experience. I remember standing in line with my teammates and looking back as we walked out and those kids…they had no clue they would be playing in front of that many people. I mean that was the experience of their lifetime, their whole career up to that point. That was awesome.
BE: Heading into this new chapter of your career as a player/coach, how does this change your camaraderie with your teammates?
JD: I don’t think it changes a whole lot, because last year I was doing similar things that I will be doing in 2013. I’m one of the older guys, so I am already coaching and I mean we all do, we all should talk more on the field at this level, but I always try to give people pointers on what’s helped me. Usually I am about 10 years older than most of the other guys on the field. I have a lot more experience and have played at a higher level more than most of the guys have, so I try to help as much as I can and hopefully I lead by example.
BE: Is there an added level of excitement that you are officially going to be Coach Calloway’s sidekick?
JD: Oh yeah for sure. I have worked with Lance for a long time and it is always fun working with him. He always asked “Quil” (Brendan Quilici) and myself our input on things last year, being that we were the two Captains, but now I will definitely be more involved right up front. I love Lance and it will be a fun year.
BE: What are things you hope will change next season?
JD: Well the tough thing about a team like this is when you have a season like we did and draw the attention we did, other coaches are going to take interest in some players. There is always going to be a turnover, Kellan Brown had a very good season and is a very good player, same with Oscar, so there is a good chance we might lose them and replacing players is always tough. Thankfully we have a lot of new kids coming through to the state through avenues such as Western Washington University (WWU). Last season we made the Kennedy Cup and the Challenge Cup playoffs, but came out with no wins to show for it. This year we are looking for baby steps, start with a win in one of those competitions and your confidence builds, then suddenly you’re winning titles.
BE: Speaking of new blood. Are there any standouts you’ve seen coming up in the college ranks during the PCSL off season?
JD: I haven’t seen a whole lot, but one player that stands out for me is WWU’s Justin Moore. I’ve played with him in indoor league and helped coach Western a year ago and he’s just a freak athlete, he plays defense, he plays forward, he plays outside mid, whatever you need he gets it done. He has a great work ethic, great skill and amazing pace. He would be someone I would love to see come out to Bellingham United. It might be tough, since he’s a med student and works a lot in the ER, but I hope while he’s around finishing school that he comes out, because he could be really special.
BE: Give us a little scoop on your teammates, what are some things we might not know about them and should?
JD: *laughs* Wow….ok well Mitch’s nickname is “Thunder Barrows”, we won’t go into how he got that moniker, something about a phone number on a napkin that worked out well for him. I bet a lot of people are wondering how Kellan got the nickname “Chewie”, get a few drinks in him and the guy is a biter! The thing is, I was out of outdoor soccer for four years and the thing I missed more than playing was the team; the locker rooms, the road trips and all that. You get to know so much about people that you never did before and all the funny things that happen along the way are a bonus. Some are appropriate to share and some aren’t *laughs*.
BE: Well there’s no hiding that Oscar is popular with the ladies, his name definitely was the most heard while in the crowd last season. Does that ever get old? *laughs*
JD: *laughs* Nah! Not at all, we’ve got the little Latin Lover Guy, he takes care of the older ladies and we get the younger ones *laughs again*. It’s funny, Oscar and I went to Diego’s Mexican Grill one day - and I’ll never forget this - the girl who was our waitress couldn’t put a sentence together right away and I was like “oh man this must be this chick’s first day”. Nope….she had worked there for a while, but she had gone to a Bellingham United game earlier that day and was screaming for Oscar the whole time. She was thrilled that he was now ordering his dinner from her. It was celebrity status! It was awesome.
BE: Who really keeps the mood light on the long road trips?
JD: Everyone keeps it going, Kellan is good for some random comments that just detour whatever is happening to a fun a place, Riley Liddle - when he was on the roster - is just a goofball, I mean either people making fun of him or him doing something to get made fun of *laughs*. Everybody had their moments, that was the cool thing and it wasn’t clique-y where four people hung out here and four people hung out there, nobody was listening to headphones, everyone was involved and goofing off together. It was always a lot of fun.
BE: How badly are you aching to get back on the pitch?
JD: Oh massively! I ended the season with a few injuries and it was my first time playing outdoor soccer in four years, so it was hard work getting fit again. Next year I am looking to have a really good year.