The Evergreen Premier League (EPLWA) will kick off on Saturday April 26 at Marquette Stadium in Yakima as Seattle Stars FC visit Yakima United FC in “The Palm Springs of Washington.” The match pits two clubs that have played before, and played each other multiple times over recent years in various leagues. Other EPLWA clubs are starting further back in terms of soccer development than Seattle and Yakima. Three of the eight clubs in the league have never played an organized league match. So let’s look at how the schedule falls for all eight clubs and see if we can find any advantages or disadvantages on paper. We’ll look at the clubs in the order in which they were accepted into the league. —by David Falk
BELLINGHAM UNITED FC (schedule)
The Hammers have two successful seasons from the Pacific Coast Soccer League under their belts as they enter into the EPLWA. They’ve got a solid core and are battle-tested from facing a few annually-tough clubs in the PCSL. The BUFC season schedule is a challenge from the very beginning in terms of number of matches. The Hammers play three games in their first week.
Back-to-back weekend matches are a reality in elite adult soccer. It will be interesting to see if the clubs with the fewest back-to-backers scheduled eventually see some kind of advantage. Bellingham opens at home Sunday April 27 when they host Vancouver Victory FC. The club travels the following weekend for matches May 3 in Spokane and May 4 in Wenatchee. Can the Hammers use their experience against the three clubs in the EPLWA who have never played a league match?
The Hammers have one of those lopsided schedules that looks great at the tail-end if you survive the onslaught at the beginning. BUFC has six of eight matches away to start the season. Then they close at home with five of the last six at Civic Stadium. The Hammers’ experience over the last two years makes them instant contenders. They will need to draw on that experience to march through their early travels around the state, which include a second back-to-backer May 31 in Vancouver and June 1 in Tacoma. Bellingham’s longest break between league matches is thirteen days.
SOUTH SOUND FC (schedule)
The Shock also have a history of success on the pitch, though their winning ways have come from friendlies and going to nationals in the USASA U-23 tournament, which they’ve done for two consecutive years. The Shock have a five-match homestand May 10 – June 14 at Harry Lang Stadium in Lakewood. They have one back-to-back weekend scheduled right now, and if they don’t change it, it’s a doozy. SSFC are scheduled to play in Spokane on Saturday night June 21 and then in Seattle on Sunday June 22 against the Stars.
South Sound will need a strong start. After the five match home streak, South Sound finishes with five of seven away. SSFC’s longest break between league matches is thirteen days.
WENATCHEE UNITED FC (schedule)
Wenatchee is one of three brand-new clubs in the EPLWA. They happen to be the last club to play a match, which will be helpful as they incorporate college players into their plans when those talents become available on May 1st (and beyond.)
WUFC play six matches in the month of June, four of them at home (Apple Bowl or Wenatchee Valley CC.) Five of seven are at home at the start for United, and the reverse is true for the last seven. Wenatchee has scheduled two back-to-backers: May 24 and 25 at home against Spokane and Yakima, and June 28-29 at Bellingham and Seattle. Wenatchee’s longest break between league matches is eight days.
SEATTLE STARS FC (league schedule)
The Stars are a competitive club that has previously won statewide (ANSL) and regional (SPSL) championships. They play year-round and it would seem this could be a huge advantage for them. This is balanced out by the recent player movements in the area, though. It appears a few of the experienced Stars may well end up on Seattle’s two NPSL clubs. The season schedule is pretty balanced for the Stars. They go back-to-back just once, and it only involves a drive over to the West Sound. June 7-8 the Stars host Spokane and then visit WestSound FC. The Stars have two streaks of three straight home matches at Starfire Sports Stadium and then end the season with three straight away. Seattle’s longest break between league matches is fifteen days. After the league opener on April 26 in Yakima the Stars don’t play a league match again until May 11 at home against Vancouver.
WestSound FC Men (league schedule)
The Silverdale Boys formed last year and played some friendlies before being accepted into the EPLWA. WSFC has a nicely balanced schedule, with no more than two away or two at home in any given streak. They do have two back-to-backers scheduled: May 30-31 at Yakima and Spokane, and June 28-29 at home against Vancouver and Yakima at Silverdale Stadium. Their April 27 start means they finish the season July 13 (at home against Wenatchee), a week before most of the rest complete their seasons. South Sound’s longest break between league matches is just a week: seven days.
Spokane Shadow (schedule)
The name “Shadow” has the longest history of any name in the EPLWA. That’s not likely to be of much use for Spokane on the pitch, but they certainly hope to build on tradition in 2014 with a new team just starting out. Travel miles will add up for Spokane, the most-isolated side in the league. To combine trips and save expenses, the Shadow have scheduled three back-to-backer weekends: May 17-18 at WestSound and South Sound FC, July 11 and 12 at Yakima and Vancouver, and July 19-20 at home against Seattle and Wenatchee at Spokane Falls Community College stadium. Other than these challenges the Shadow have ended up with a fairly balanced fixture list with no more than three in a row away and three mini-homestands of two matches each. The Shadow’s longest break between league matches is fifteen days.
Vancouver Victory FC (schedule)
The Victory are a new club. They sit on the border between Washington and Oregon in the second-largest metro market behind Seattle. Time will tell how many of their starters are from Portland and surrounding areas. The Victory have done well in giving themselves an advantage in their schedule. They don’t pay a single back-to-backer weekend on the road all season long. They have just one—but at home: May 17-18 against Wenatchee and Yakima. The Victory’s longest away stretch is three matches, longest homestand is two matches at McKenzie Stadium. A balanced schedule should be helpful as the new side settles its players into a rhythm. In the first half of the year V2FC have four at home, three away. In the second half they have three at home, four away. Vancouver’s longest break between league matches is ten days.
Yakima United FC (schedule)
It’s good news / bad news for Yakima. They get the honor of hosting the first-ever league match, but they also were the last team admitted into the EPLWA, with that decision coming in January, months behind the other clubs. That makes it a rush for the Hoppers’ front office, but shouldn’t be an issue on the pitch, where United will draw from some of the best talent in the state, grown out of the very-competitive Yakima adult soccer scene. That talent will need to come together early. The Hoppers play half their season (seven matches) by May 30th. It’s a challenging go for YUFC as they play a four-match road swing May 10-25. They also end the season sooner than anyone else, July 11 at home against Spokane. United has two back-to-backer weekends to deal with: May 24-25 at Seattle and Wenatchee and June 28-29 at South Sound and WestSound. Yakima’s longest break between league matches is seven days.
I tend to think balanced schedules are best for clubs, but of course there will always be exceptions where a team catches fire away from home, or a club struggles in their own venue. My take here is that generally the schedules won’t be a huge issue as all clubs will face a congested route to playing fourteen matches in roughly twelve weeks. The schedules that stand out as offering special challenges are Bellingham’s radically unbalanced slate of away/ home, South Sound’s five of seven away to end their season, and Yakima’s brutal beginning with half the season scheduled before the end of May. I will also be watching to see how travel does or doesn’t challenge the Spokane Shadow’s efforts, along with their three back-to-backers.
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