The Bellingham United Football Club three years ago was on the brink of kicking off its inaugural campaign not knowing what the club’s future may bring.
What would the talent level be? Would the club be able to cultivate a soccer culture worth matching Whatcom County’s passion for the sport? Could the club sustain itself?
Now in Year 3, backed by a strong core management group, BUFC is being billed as the new Evergreen Premier League’s model franchise.
Bellingham United competed in the Pacific Coast Soccer League its first two seasons, playing clubs nearly exclusively from British Columbia, but BUFC won’t leave the U.S. this spring and summer.EPLWA Coordinator David Falk had glowing words for the league’s founding club.
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“Bellingham United will be the flagship club for the Evergreen Premier League in every possible way,” Falk said in a press release on BUFC’s team website, bellinghamunited.com. “They have demonstrated the strengths of their organization in terms of soccer, supporters and business relationships. They are the model we will be working to pattern our future clubs the state of Washington after.”
Joining Bellingham United in the EPLWA will be Seattle, South Sound, Spokane, Vancouver, Wenatchee, West Sound and Yakima.
The Hammers open their season at home against Vancouver Victory FC at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 27, at Civic Stadium.
And there is plenty to be excited about for returning coach Lance Calloway as his club begins the new campaign, which will culminate with a champion being crowned based on who leads the league table at season’s end.
“We have established some great stuff in the community,” Calloway said in a phone interview. “There is a lot of excitement to kickoff the season and get the games going. I think that goes to the hard work of the people who are behind the scenes.”
On the field, Calloway is thrilled with the talent level of his team and the deep roster he’ll be working with.
Bellingham United will hold a squad of 37-38 players, which means increased competition for starting spots.
Third year returner and first year captain, midfielder Sean Connor, has his starting role sewed up and headlines a talented middle third.
“I’m excited for it,” said Connor, who enjoyed a successful playing career at Western Washington University, of owning captain responsibilities. “There’s a little pressure along with it. How the team does reflects on the captain, and we have a large fan base that wants to see Bellingham United produce a lot of wins.”
For Connor, BUFC has not only provided him the chance to continue his soccer career in an elite men’s league, he fulfilled a dream goal of his last year when he received the chance to play overseas in Holland.
“Two of us had the opportunity to go to Holland last winter and that was kind of my goal,” Connor said. “I wanted to play in college, and I was able to do that. And then having that opportunity, which was through Bellingham United, to play overseas, really, that was my goal and will always be a part of my life. I think playing for BUFC is a good level for me right now.”
Connor also said working with younger college talent and helping them hone their games is rewarding, and he should get the opportunity to do that this season with a new influx of young talent.
Throughout all three levels Bellingham United has some strong contributors and familiar names BUFC supporters will remember.
Defender Chris Jepson, United’s other captain, gives the club a talented backline member to go with players such as Keith Farris, Joel Grossman, Bailey Martin and Nick Saletto.
Oscar Jimenez will be with United at some point, and he’ll join Connor, Tye Hastings, Uche Ugwoaba and Gabriele Zaccagnini in the middle third.
Prolific WWU goal scorer Andrew Weishaar will be relied on to produce up top, and Leo Cohen and Christian Warman are expected to compete for time in goal.
“I’m excited about this league,” Connor said. “I really believe it will fill a niche, and I’m glad Bellingham United can be one of the teams.”
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.
2014 BELLINGHAM UNITED SCHEDULEDate Opponent TimeApril 27 Vancouver Victory FC 3 p.m.May 3 at Spokane Shadow 7 p.m.May 4 at Wenatchee United FC TBDMay 9 Sounders U23 6 p.m.May 11 West Sound FC 3 p.m.May 18 at Seattle Stars FC 5 p.m.May 25 at West Sound FC 4 p.m.May 31 at Vancouver Victory FC 2 p.m.June 1 at South Sound FC 2 p.m.June 8 Yakima United FC 3 p.m.June 15 Spokane Shadow 3 p.m.June 28 Wenatchee United FC 7:30 p.m.July 5 at Yakima United FC 6 p.m.July 13 Seattle Stars FC 3 p.m.July 18 South Sound FC TBDNote: All home games will be played at Civic Stadium