Community Sports

United looking to mix youth and experience in 2015

Every coach in every team sport preaches it — beyond the point that it’s become cliché.

How many times have you heard a football coach say, “We need to play a full 60 minutes,” a baseball manager talk about playing all nine innings or a basketball coach speak about playing all four quarters?

Bellingham United FC coach Lance Calloway is no different, as he prepares his team to open its fourth soccer season at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 26, when it hosts South Sound at Civic Stadium.

“Obviously we need to stay healthy,” Calloway said in a phone interview of the keys to his team’s 2015 season. “But for us, we’ve also got to make it a point to make sure we play a full 90.”

Yes, it’s been said before, but the Hammers were living proof of just how important that old coachspeak really is last summer — their first in the Evergreen Premier League of Washington.

Spokane claimed the inaugural EPLWA title with 32 regular-season points in the league’s no-playoff format. Bellingham finished 12 points behind in fourth place with its 6-6-2 record.

The difference, Calloway said, was the Hammers gave away points in the final five minutes of four games.

“A couple of games we gave up three points completely (for a win) in the closing minutes, and in another we gave up points with a tie,” Calloway said. “You add 11 or 12 points to our total, and we would have been in a far better position.”

Not that Calloway was disappointed with Bellingham’s outcome in 2014.

“I think our team, out of all the teams, had a lot better experience, because we played in the PCL our first two two years,” Calloway said. “We had the experience of knowing what to do. Bottom line for us, is we had to get an understanding that we have some teams that have different styles of play than we’re used to.”

And with a good mix of veteran players and young, promising talent in 2015, Calloway is excited for even more.

Probably the biggest returner for Bellingham is 2014 EPLWA leading scorer Tyler Bjork, who scored 13 goals last season.

“He’s dynamic and explosive, and he’s got a nose for the goal,” Calloway said.

But Bjork was the only player in black and white to tally more than three goals last summer, something that should definitely change in 2015.

The Hammers welcome back Brendan Quilici, who played with the club its first two years but was unable to play in 2014, when he helped coach at Western Washington University. NCAA rules prohibit playing and coaching at the same time.

The addition of former Bellingham High standout Nick Cashmere, who was selected The Bellingham Herald’s 2007 All-Whatcom County Boys’ Soccer Player of the Year also should lesson the scoring load on Bjork. Since his time with the Red Raiders, Cashmere played collegiately at San Jose State and went on to professional stints in South Africa, Puerto Rico and California.

“He’s very talented, and we’re fortunate to have him,” Calloway said of Cashmere. “He’s very quick and technical. ... He’s very good, whether it’s setting up goals or scoring them himself, and Quilici always finds the back of the net.

“We’ve got some very dynamic players that can play great soccer possessions — they can play ace soccer, but they can work the ball around, as well.”

They’ll also be asked to play a role on defense, as Calloway said he expects his defense to start with the forwards and work its way back.

Calloway said he is expecting big things from young, but talented midfielders Christian Thode and Jake Vendramin, who is also listed as a defender.

“Jake is showing good promise as a young player,” Calloway said. “It’s nice to bring in some young players, like we have this year.”

Chris Jepson figures to anchor the back line, with Carlos Badillo and Keith Ferris on the outside. Calloway said Nolan Smith also has shown well on defense, and the United expect to add WWU’s Uche Ugwoaba and Kurtis Pederson to the rotation once their college commitments are done.

“Our defense as a whole, we’ve got a lot of veteran experience,” Calloway said.

It’s that veteran experience throughout the team and an influx of young talent that has Calloway excited about what the United can accomplish in 2015.

He said the team drew about 75 players for its spring tryouts and currently have a pool of about 30 to pick from, though he expects that pool to change as colleges finish up their spring seasons.

“We started out slow, but we’ve quickly been getting more cohesive,” Calloway said. “I think that has a lot to do with the leadership we’ve been getting from guys like Jepson and Quilici. ... We’ve got some great new young talent with some veteran experience, and if we can mix that all together, it will make for some fun stuff for people to watch. This group of guys plays a good brand of soccer.”