Bellingham United 6, Tacoma Stars Reserves 4
After a defensive first half with just one goal scored, Bellingham United scored three times in the third quarter and had the answer for every Tacoma Stars Reserves comeback attempt to win their fourth Western Indoor Soccer League championship with a 6-4 win at the Tacoma Soccer Center on Saturday night. The win snapped the Stars Reserves 23 game unbeaten streak that included a win in last season’s championship game against Bellingham. It is the first upset in WISL playoff history with the #2 seed Bellingham knocking off the #1 seed Stars Reserves on the road.
The game started in typical Tacoma fashion with the Stars Reserves playing a patient, defensive game, waiting for their opportunities. Bellingham keeper Nate Salveson set the tone with a couple big saves early on. After a save with with 5:53 left in the first, a little fracas ensued in front of the goal and Tacoma’s Nate Ford was hit with a blue card giving Bellingham their first power play opportunity. But Tacoma killed that off with relative ease and the rest of the quarter played out even, ending scoreless.
Bellingham’s Christian Caro was hit with a blue card three minutes into the second quarter giving Tacoma their first man advantage of the game, but the Hammers killed off that power play after facing a couple decent opportunities for the Stars Reserves. But fouls and physical play caught up to United eight minutes later when they picked up a blue card after Ford drew the call and then were hit with a foul accumulation blue card moments later, giving Tacoma a two man advantage with 2:53 left in the first half. JJ Schmeck took advantage by taking a little step around a Bellingham defender, finding some open space and firing one past Salveson to put the Stars Reserves up 1-0. Despite picking up a blue card for their sixth foul, the Stars Reserves held on to take that one goal lead into the break.
Bellingham opened up the third with a man advantage but the Stars Reserves killed their second power play to keep it 1-0. But a long Tacoma clearance that found the side netting gave Bellingham a free kick from the top of the box and after a fake by Richard Henderson on the restart, Christian Caro stepped up and boomed one past Tacoma keeper Mike Arguello to tie the game, 1-1, with 11:43 left in the third.
An energized United defense then stepped up their high press and it led to a wild pass by Eddie Na back to Arguello that was out of his reach and found the back of the net with 7:14 left in the third, giving Bellingham a 2-1 lead. Four minutes later, Uriel Herrera won the ball on the boards, stepped past a defender and buried a near post shot to give the Hammers a 3-1 lead with 3:23 left in the third. Seconds later, they almost made it 4-1 when Arguello got caught out of his goal, but a block by Danny Minniti saved the day and the Stars Reserves went into the fourth quarter chasing two goals.
Richard Henderson was hit with a blue card just seconds into the fourth quarter giving the Stars Reserves a huge opportunity, but the Hammers defense was up to the task and killed the power play with ease. But a minute later, Tacoma captain Micah Wenzel took a pass from Diego Aceves and threaded a shot from the corner past Salveson to cut the lead to just one, 3-2, with 11:14 left.
This season, though, the Hammers had the answer for Tacoma’s comeback attempt. Just 20 second after Wenzel made it a one goal game, Connor Moe took the ball away on an attempt at a break by Tacoma and took it straight at goal, burying a shot to make it 4-2 with 10:54 left. Then, after taking the ball away from a defender, Herrera shook another defender and got his own ball off the wall and hammered one past Arguello to give Bellingham their largest lead at 5-2 with 10:02 left. Adrian Correa cut the lead to two, 5-3, with 6:15 left but Christian Caro scored just seconds into a power play to put Bellingham back up by three, 6-3, with 5:02 left. Logan Jones added a goal for Tacoma with 3:43 left to make it 6-4, but United fended off a sixth attacker over the final two minutes and held on for the road victory.
The win was Bellingham’s fourth WISL championship in six tries. They fell to the Tacoma Stars in the inaugural season at the Tacoma Soccer Center and then fell to them once again last season, again in Tacoma. In fact, this is the first win in league history for United against the Stars/Stars Reserves franchise at the Tacoma Soccer Center, getting a huge monkey off of their backs. It is also the first time that a road team has won in the WISL playoffs and the first #2 seed to win the title. Bellingham will head to the PASL Nationals in March.
Bellingham United goals: Christian Caro (2), Uriel Herrera (2), Connor Moe, Tacoma own goal
Tacoma Stars Reserves goals: JJ Schmeck, Micah Wenzel, Adrian Correa, Logan Jones