12/17/2012 1:14 PM
If soccer clubs and communities were diamonds, Washington would be the mine that hit the mother load. The Evergreen State has always had a history with the sport, as well as a faithful following that has passed on their passion for the greatest sport in the world through generation after generation, but it is safe to say that the recent soccer boom that started with the 2009 MLS expansion to Seattle started something extraordinary even by Northwest soccer standards.
Bellingham, Washington is the most recent example of this phenomenon. Although Bellingham does have a history with the sport including the Bellingham Marlins of the late 90’s and a successful semi-pro indoor program that has been running since 2007 (WSA Rapids), 2012 has truly been the coming out party for Bellingham as a soccer city.
“The City of Subdued Excitement” ditched its subtlety early on this year with the arrival of PCSL newcomers, Bellingham United FC. From the start of the preseason, it was obvious that the city who had already embraced the Seattle Sounders were chomping at the bit to have a team to cheer on in their own backyard. Friendlies against teams like San Carlos, Kitsap Pumas, and even a University team from Liverpool, England (Myserscough College) brought fans to Civic and Orca field even during the chilliest of early spring nights. Supporter’s Clubs formed, fan favorites started take shape and it all led up to a regular season debut in front of 1,500 fans. It wouldn’t end there either, the team regularly saw 1,000+ fans throughout the season, as well as a group of loyal supporters who followed them through British Columbia while on the road and into the playoffs as well. To use the term “magical” would be a huge understatement.
It seemed as though the excitement for the “Hammers” transcended through other facets of the Bellingham soccer landscape as well. Western Washington University Viking’s men’s side finished with an 8-8-2 season, a vast improvement from their 2011 season in which they finished 5-11-1. Bellingham United FC fans showed up to watch Hammers like Andrew Weishaar and Sujinda Dangvan play for their University team and catch up with other Hammers like Oscar Jimenez, Chris Jepsen and Justin Diener who also frequented the games as spectators as well.
WWU’s girl’s team also seemed to feed off of the enthusiasm. They finished their regular season with a commanding 15-3-0 record and cruised through the inaugural GNAC (Great Northwest Athletic Conference) Tournament to become the first ever champions and earned themselves an automatic berth in the West Regional of the NSCAA Division II National Tournament. The Vikings would eventually lose to UC San Diego, but they wouldn’t go down without a fight, falling 2-1 in overtime.
Their accomplishments wouldn’t go unnoticed either. Goalkeeper Jamie Arthurs was named GNAC Player of the Year after setting a conference record for most shutouts. Teammates Brina Sych and Catherine Miles would join her in taking home titles for Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year respectively. The proverbial icing on the cake would come in the form of Head Coach Travis Connell being named NSCAA Division II West Region Coach of the Year. The USA is finally catching onto a game that has been popular almost everywhere else in the world for decades upon decades, but what has helped it the most is the fact that Washington State has become a home for the sport, a place where it can flourish and thrive. Bellingham, Washington is just added proof that with a little bit of polishing and a little bit of shaping, there are many diamonds to be found in this soccer rich state and it doesn’t take too long or too much for them to shine.