Saturday night February 17 at 7:30 PM at the Bellingham Sportsplex the 4th WISL Championship Match will decide if Bellingham 3-peats or if Tacoma gets its second title.
The Hammers have been in all four WISL Finals. They lost to the Tacoma Stars 6-2 in 2015 at the Tacoma Soccer Center. The next two seasons BUFC hosted the Final, both times winning against the Olympic Force, 8-5 and 10-4. Now we arrive at this season and Bellingham takes on the only WISL team to have beaten them in the last 14 months – the Tacoma Stars Reserves.
TSR (7-2-0) are quick to point out that although this would be a second WISL title for the city of Tacoma, they are their own team, related to but not actually the ‘Tacoma Stars” who won back then by going 14-0-0. Those Stars now play in the MASL. TSR carries on the tradition and hopes to win their first WISL trophy on Saturday.
Tacoma will rely on veteran goalkeeper Aaron Anderson, veteran defensive midfielder Micah Wenzel, veteran attacker Danny Minniti, veteran forward Nate Ford, and other stalwarts such as Mark Lee, Vitale Bulala, Joe Jarzynka and JJ Schmeck. New names to watch out for include versatile midfielder Adrian Correa, PLU scorer Eddie Na, and lanky defender Logan Jones, among others. It is a group very capable of doing something no team has ever done in the WISL: win an away playoff match. TSR head coach Adam Becker will surely hype his troops up to attempt the task at hand.
That’s right, away teams are now a combined 0-11 in WISL playoffs/finals history. Earlier this regular season TSR was ahead of the Hammers in the 4th quarter in Bellingham 7-6 but fell apart under pressure in a six-minute span that saw them eventually lose 9-7. They had something to prove when BUFC visited Tacoma recently. TSR made their point with a 6-4 win that ended a long Hammers league winning streak.
Bellingham United (8-1-0) are favorites to 3-peat. They have the home pitch advantage and they also have the better offense. Nick Cashmere and Richard Henderson finished 2-3 in the goals scoring race this season with 17 and 16. Any number of guys can also score or get them the ball: Veteran Chris Jepson, Uriel Herrera, Eleazar Galvan, others. Then there is a subset of Hammers who can beat you as well: John Ruvalcaba had a great season. Conner Moe, Kurtis Pederson and Kenny Parker are dependable vets. In goal is the chatty but sometimes brilliant Riley Liddle. Leading the team on and off the pitch is player coach Brendan Quilici.
The Hammers love to give joy to their fans, especially the beer-soaked gang near the far goal at the close side of the pitch. The supporters groups there chant, make noise, harass the visitors and wait for their heroes to leap up the Plexiglas and celebrate with them after goals. It’s a winning tradition that now spans all 4 WISL seasons.
Bellingham Sportsplex is a big pitch, but so is the Tacoma Soccer Center. The goals in the Sportsplex are larger than those in Tacoma. It should be a great WISL Final.