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Hammers reflect on first year in EPLWA

TYler Bjork led the EPLWA in goals with 13 for Bellingham in the first season of the new league. (David Willoughby)

TYler Bjork led the EPLWA in goals with 13 for Bellingham in the first season of the new league. (David Willoughby)

by Brandon Enyeart, BUFC Insider

hammersBELLINGHAM, WA— (club release) Although Bellingham United FC has only been around for three years, you can’t help, but feel like the team has been part of this community for much longer. Perhaps it is a testament to the ownership, as well as the coaches and players who represent the squad and what they’ve done for the city of Bellingham in the short time they’ve been around.

The Hammers and their faithful knew that this third season was full of questions and hills to climb. After two seasons of making the playoffs in the Pacific Coast Soccer League based in British Columbia, Canada, Bellingham decided to join the brand new Evergreen Premier League here in Washington State instead. The new league would leave no room for error, either you ended the season top of the table or you didn’t, no playoffs, no championship match. It was a heck of a task for Head Coach, Lance Calloway and his guys, but you would never know that looking and listening to them.

The season started off with the absence of Kellan Brown and Oscar Jimenez, both of whom were playing for Seattle Sounders U-23 to start their seasons. Although a Bellingham United FC squad without the two stars did feel a tad bit eerie, the fact that up and comers like Mo Marenah and Conlon Kifney were out there looking to earn a steady spot in the lineup made the transition a little easier.

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For the first time in their history, Bellingham United was able to open their season at home against Vancouver Victory FC (Vancouver, WA). The match ended with a 2-0 score in Bellingham’s favor and just like that the somewhat rebuilding Hammers had their first win of the season. After the opening match, Bellingham headed out on the road for a back to back weekend with matches against Spokane and Wenatchee respectively. The Hammers took the first match 2-1 over the eventual league Champions and then added a third “W” with a 5-2 result against the “Capitals” in Wenatchee.

EPLWA Logo-06-CROP-500Things were definitely looking good for BUFC, they led the EPLWA out of the gates and looked to be deadly even on the road. However, a week after a friendly loss to Seattle Sounders U-23, the Hammers would lose their first league match of the season to WestSound FC who were back and forth with the Seattle Stars at the time for last place in the league. It was a last-minute goal that gave WestSound the 1-0 win and it felt like a punch in the gut to both the Hammers and their loyal Black and White Army.

Bellingham was able to bounce back the next week though on the road in Tukwila against the Seattle Stars with a 4-0 win. Faith was restored once again, at least for a short while before the Hammers would take on WestSound for the second and final time in the season. That second match would end up with a 1-1 score line, leaving Bellingham to wonder why WestSound seemed to have their number.

The draw against WestSound was followed up by two losses to Vancouver and South Sound as Bellingham watched their EPLWA lead slowly slip away. But, just as things were starting to look a little glum….magic happened.

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On June 8th, Bellingham United FC faced off against Yakima United FC at Civic Field. It was the “Hammers” vs. the “Hoppers” and looking at the way both teams had been playing, there was little doubt the match would entertain and entertain it did. Before fans could even find their seats, Bellingham United striker, Tyler Bjork had already converted a penalty for the early 1-0 lead and what happened after that, you had to see to believe. Bjork went on to score six goals before the first half was even close to ending. The sixth one being a ridiculous side volley, scissor kick that left everyone who witnessed it with their jaw on the floor. The performance set all kinds of league and team records and gave the Hammers faithful a memory that would last forever.

Bjork would continue to be in top form for the remainder of the season, eventually earning himself the title of “EPLWA Goal King” finishing with 13 goals over 14 games, two more than Mikey Ramos of the Spokane Shadow.

As for the Hammers? The rest of their season was full of ups and downs including another big 4-2 win against Wenatchee United at home, as well as a 3-3 draw with a late surging Seattle Stars side. Their efforts would only be good enough for fourth place in the league though with a 6-6-2 record.

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Although it wasn’t the final placing anybody associated with Bellingham United FC wanted, there were a ton of positives to take away from the 2014 season. Going the whole way with only a few quick cameos from the aforementioned Kellan Brown and Oscar Jimenez, as well as losing names like Sean Connor, Leo Cohen and Andrew Weishaar along the way, things could have been much worse. In fact a fourth place finish might have even been an overachievement all things considered.

More importantly, the support of the fans was the second best in the league. Second only just barely to the Spokane Shadow, a team from a city with 209,816 citizens compared to Bellingham’s 80,885. Once again, the city of Bellingham showed that they are a soccer crazy city and we can’t get enough of it. Here’s to being number one on all fronts in 2015. Thank you all for your support once again.

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