Stars reflect on Championship Season

Stars reflect on Championship Season

Tacoma's first goal, scored by Raphael Cox, sneaks past Riley Liddle just before the first half buzzer. (Wilson Tsoi)
Tacoma’s first goal, scored by Raphael Cox, sneaks past Riley Liddle just before the first half buzzer. (Wilson Tsoi)

starsFacebookavatarby Atif Bhatti

TACOMA, WA—They came, they saw, they conquered.

That is what the Tacoma Stars did in the very first season of the Western Indoor Soccer League’s existence, winning all 13 of their friendly, regular season, and playoff games in WISL play with a 6-2 victory over Bellingham United in the WISL Final to top it all off. This past Saturday night, 743 indoor soccer fans in the jam-packed Tacoma Soccer Center were witnesses to this championship game that was surely one for the ages and capped off phenomenal seasons from both Bellingham and the champion Stars.

See a massive Final photo gallery from Wilson at!

Other coverage: Match Recap, Videos, Finals MVP’s, Fan Photos, Fan Videos, SounderAtHeart, LEVY Films.

Coach Sawatzky and Derek Johnson both felt that the team’s best shot at the WISL trophy was sticking to the team’s usual plan, and according to Raphael Cox, that plan was not altered at all. “We didn’t change anything for this week’s preparations,” Cox said. “We trained very hard like we always do and we kept everything the same.” Since this approach had worked all season long, the team didn’t feel the need to change it now. “We have had success this whole season so we wanted to stay the course as much as possible,” Cox added.

Cox climbs a wall to celebrate Tacoma's first goal in the WISL Final. (Wilson Tsoi)
Cox climbs a wall to celebrate Tacoma’s first goal in the WISL Final. (Wilson Tsoi)

Joey Gjertsen, who also had a fantastic game on Saturday night, pointed out how much the Stars emphasized the small details in last week’s training sessions. “We spent a lot of time going over small details that usually make the difference in big games,” Gjertsen stated. “Things like set pieces, rotations, and a few adjustments needed with (Adam) West leaving.”

The game’s first goal was scored by Bellingham’s Gabriele Zaccagnini off a set piece, putting United ahead of Tacoma for most of the opening half. “We weren’t playing well for most of the half,” Cox acknowledged. “I think that everyone wanted to win so bad that they were trying to do too much. So I was thinking once we score our first goal, everyone will settle down.” And that first goal for the Stars came from Raphael Cox, who fired a shot that went right past Bellingham’s goalkeeper to tie the game just seconds before halftime. “Lucky enough for me, my teammates put me in a great position to score and I did,” Cox stated.

Once Raphael Cox’s equalizer hit the back of the net, the Stars never looked back. The home side would go on to score three unanswered goals in the second half, with Mark Lee scoring a brace and Derek Johnson recording a goal. The wave of momentum certainly swung into Tacoma’s favor, as the Stars were up by three goals with about half of the fourth quarter left to play.

Joey Gjertsen was held in check by the Hammers --- until two goals came in the last 26 seconds of the match. (Wilson Tsoi)
Joey Gjertsen was held in check by the Hammers — until two goals came in the last 26 seconds of the match. (Wilson Tsoi)

However, Bellingham would remind everyone why they had made it all the way to the WISL Final, as United would score late in the fourth quarter (Tye Hastings) to pull themselves within two goals of the Stars and keep the match alive. With over six minutes left, Bellingham continued pushing for the two goals that would tie the game once again.

But it was the Stars who scored a pair of goals, as Joey Gjertsen scored a clutch brace in the closing minutes of the game to secure the victory and the WISL trophy for Tacoma. “I was pretty frustrated for most of the game,” Gjertsen explained. “I certainly had my chances.” The Stars’ midfielder had a plethora of chances throughout the game, but he couldn’t find the back of the net. “I feel I should scored a few times earlier in the match but Bellingham is a good team so nothing came easy against them,” Gjertsen added. “Both of my goals were a result of our team being fit and able to high press late in the game to put it away.”


It was clear that the WISL Championship was the Stars’ goal all season long, and the team accomplished that goal in tremendous fashion. “We had our minds set on winning this inaugural season of the WISL even before our first training,” said Gjertsen. “Only one team can be happy at the end of the year and I’m glad our hard work paid off and its us.” Gjertsen has also made it clear what the Stars’ expectations for next season are. “I can tell you right now our goal next year will be to defend the title and winning the championship will always be the standard with the Tacoma Stars,” Gjertsen added.

Tacoma native Raphael Cox was also proud of his teammates and the time, hard work, and dedication that every member of the Stars put in this season. “We have about 30-40 guys who trained with us all season long,” Cox said. “Some guys never played a minute with the first team but they were just as important as the starting five.” Cox is also proud of what the Tacoma Stars organization has accomplished in the past year. “The organization built a family with this group of guys and it was special to be a part of this in my home city.”


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