Bellingham United had a fairly impressive first season - finishing third overall in the Pacific Coast Soccer League's regular season, taking part in two postseason tournaments and averaging more than 1,000 fans per game.
It's not surprising then that head coach Lance Calloway is returning many of the core players to seek out the same success.
Calloway said one of the strengths of this year's team will be the continuation of its core defenders. After giving up only 25 goals, the defense began to solidify itself near the end of last season.
Thomas Kauffman, Chris Jepson, Mitch Barrows and Justin Diener are all returning as defenders for the 2013 season. Keith Ferris is moving from forward to the back as a defender and Matt Zigulis is returning from an injury that ended his season early in 2012.
Calloway said each of those players brings something special to the table. He said Kauffman has an engine that never quits and Kauffman and Zigulis are great at getting service in on the attacking end. The two center backs, Barrows and Jepson, are both strong, hard-tackling players that are very composed and like to play physically and Ferris has really adjusted well to playing defensively but still can utilize his offensive talents on runs up the field.
But, the team did lose a key component in Justin Scholze - a player Calloway said was a leader on the field - who won't play this season.
"He was a great communicator on the field," Calloway said. "That's something we need to work on this year is communication on the field. Chris Jepson is really starting to work on that and is becoming a leader out there."
Jepson said he has made communication a focus of the preseason.
"I think we had a really challenging preseason that allowed me to work on my communication skills," Jepson said. "When you have someone like Scholze you don't have to work as hard on talking because you know he's going to take that role. This year, I've had to assume that role."
Kauffman said losing Scholze is tough for the team, but he is confident Jepson can fill that void.
Kauffman agreed that one of the biggest strengths is that the team is used to playing with one another.
"We got to play with each other all of last year," Kauffman said. "But some of us also played together in college and know where each other is going to be and know the plays we are going to make. Some guys like to step up and we know when to drop back and support when they do."
Kauffman said the team has a good core group and really good chemistry on and off the field. He said there is no sense of individualism on the team and that everyone really cares about one another.
This season, United will have a chance to utilize more of its players. The club will field a reserve team in order to give more players game time and hopefully develop some of the younger talent.
Calloway said the team is also trying to avoid playing back-to-back games in order to give players more rest and hopefully stave off injuries with this season's schedule.
But, the major goal remains the same. Calloway said the top priority is to win the Challenge Cup - the PCSL's postseason tournament.
Kauffman and Jepson said the team has that same goal in mind.
"It would be great to win the league," Kauffman said. "There are some really strong teams in the league but I think we are one of the best. It would be great to win it and make a statement."
He and Jepson also have the same personal goal in mind too - to score a goal as a defender. In fact, Jepson promised it.
2013 Bellingham United roster
Date Opponent Time
April 27 at Victoria United 7 p.m.
April 28 at Victoria Highlanders 2 p.m.
May 5 Estrella de Chile 3 p.m.
May 11 at Kamloops 3 p.m.
May 19 Kitsap (friendly) 3 p.m.
May 26 Vancouver 3 p.m.
June 2 Kamloops 3 p.m.
June 6 at Khalsa 8 p.m.
June 9 Coquitlam 3 p.m.
June 12 at Coquitlam 8 p.m.
June 16 Victoria United 3 p.m.
June 23 Khalsa 3 p.m.
July 7 Khalsa 3 p.m.
July 13 at Vancouver 2 p.m.
July 21 Victoria Highlanders 3 p.m.