Bellingham United FC represents a growing interest in soccer across Whatcom County. We spoke with Lance Calloway, the team’s head coach, about this growing movement and the United’s changes in the 2016 season. 

Bellingham United FC seems to have tremendous community support, why do you think that is?

Bellingham is a soccer community. Youth and adult soccer in Whatcom County are huge in this community. A number of the United FC players have roots here—they either grew up here, or attended WWU and then became involved in the local soccer community through coaching youth teams.  We have a lot of players who grew up playing through the recreational and WFC Rangers programs as well as high school programs so the local connection is there.

We also have players who have gone away to college, return and get back involved as they are keen to play organized ball at a high level which BUFC does in the Evergreen Premier League of WA. It’s a good standard of soccer that is exciting while at the same time are showing our local youth how to play the game and they can watch it live. I can’t tell you how many of our players are recognized by kids and in general throughout the community. This makes our players proud to be part of this club.

Bellingham United works hard to make it a great family environment for all ages to come out and enjoy the game and comradery that has developed. We make sure we are involved in the community with the Meridian 3v3 tournament and promoting reading challenges in some of the elementary schools.

Our games are a fun place for everyone to be. We have activities for the kiddos, and a separated beer garden for the adults to enjoy a pint and watch some competitive soccer.  

As our season runs from late April-late July, I can say there is nothing more fun that getting out on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Civic Stadium to watch a United match and enjoy it with your soccer friends.

Another key part of our success has come from the supporters groups; Bellinghammers SC and Black & White Army are some of the best organized that you’ll find. These two groups are awesome part of our club as they encourage fans to get involved in cheering and singing chants. They really support our club through thick or thin!

US interest in soccer is growing, but we’re still a long way from competing every 4 years with the likes of Brazil, Germany, and Argentina. How do we get to the next level?

Soccer in the US is second largest sport in our country for kids 6-18. With over 7.1 million kids playing, Soccer trails only basketball which boasts 7.6 million kids. While some may state we are a long way from winning the world cup and competing with the powerhouse countries like Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Spain, I think it is better to look how far we have come.

First of all we have the best women’s team in the world as that was proved in July with the women winning the 2015 World Cup. On the men’s side we have more and more of our players getting opportunities to play in the top leagues in Europe where the best soccer is played. The level and quality of play in the MLS has substantially improved over the past 5–10 years as it is becoming more attractive style of soccer to watch as opposed to the early years when they just played long balls in behind.  How far are we from contending for the world cup? Unfortunately I think at least 12–16 years.

Here in the US professional soccer is on a second tier in regards to money that can be made by pro athletes. In our professional sports of basketball, football, and baseball the minimum salary for rookie is a half a million dollars.  In Major League Soccer the minimum salary is $50,000—ten times less. This drives many of our country’s best athletes away from soccer and toward the sports that pay better. I personally know of great players, who could have played soccer professionally, but chose pursue a career as an attorney, doctor or other professions that pays better in the early years of their career. As the sport grows in the US we hopefully will get more of our athletes playing soccer.

We must also improve our youth soccer environment.  US youth soccer development has greatly improved in many ways. We are now seeing the 3rd generation of players from our system now becoming coaches.

All of this is a step closer to get pushing the US to be a contender, but it’s expensive. Too often children from wealthy families—not necessarily the best players—pursue competitive youth soccer. It can cost families between $3,000–$8,000 a year. Those costs push away great athletes who can’t afford to play at a high level. In Europe and South America the cost of playing soccer is very low in comparison. Throughout the rest of the soccer world, the professional game subsidizes the lower levels of play to eliminate that cost barrier. But it’s not happening here. The cost is not an easily solved puzzle in the current US youth soccer picture.

When are tryouts? And what should newcomers expect?

Tryouts for Bellingham United are on March 12 & 19 from 8–10 AM at Civic Stadium.  

If past years are an indication, tryouts should be very competitive. We typically have 65–80 players come out. We then invite in a pool of 30 or so players to begin training and that is where we really see how the players match up. We have a great core of players who will be returning and this will certainly push the level. I have already been contacted by players from other parts of the state, Quebec, and even as far away as New Zealand.

Players should be prepared to train hard and expect to be pushed.

How do you feel about the team’s chances in the 2016 season?

Last season was one of the toughest seasons we had as a squad.  We went our first 10 matches without a win. It was extremely disappointing for everyone as we battled injuries to key players. Several times we dominated the match, but just did not get the ball into the net.  We finished at the bottom of the table. This left a real bad taste for many on the squad.

I look to see more of our younger players involved and contributing as they have matured and will be more effective. We also have a few new players who have moved into the area and said they want to be involved with the squad.

One great thing about the Evergreen Premier League: it is a very competitive. Anyone can win any given match day. We just need to prepare properly and work to maximize our opportunities better than we did last year.

I would encourage everyone to come out to watch a BUFC match as the guys playing are great and work hard to play for our home town!

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