The Evergreen Premier League kicks off its fourth season of play on Sunday April 30th. The elite statewide men’s soccer competition which resides unofficially in the fourth division of US Soccer has seen an off-season of change that will carry over and shape the new campaign.
There are new venues, new head coaches, even a new club in the mix for the EPLWA. It all should make for an entertaining and unpredictable spring and summer in Washington’s highest-level self-sustaining men’s soccer league.
VANCOUVER VICTORY FC
The Vancouver Victory won the league in 2016 by finishing top of the table and 4 points clear of Bellingham and Spokane. In the off-season the Victory revealed a new head coach, Troy Ready, after former gaffer Aaron Lewis left to become head coach of the PDL Portland Timbers U23’s. The Timbers U23’s have already announced that two star Victory players, Timur Zhividze and Christo Michaelson, are headed to Salem with Lewis. The Victory will play their home matches back where they started – returning to McKenzie Stadium at Evergreen High School this season.
BELLINGHAM UNITED FC
The Hammers of Bellingham United are on a successful streak in various competitions. BUFC have been to three straight Western Indoor Soccer League (WISL) Finals, winning the last two of them. The club recently traveled to PASL Nationals in Arizona where they missed out on a finals appearance by a single goal. Outdoors the Hammers had their highest-ever EPLWA finish in 2016 – second in the table. The trajectory of the club is upwards, so the changes are likely to be limited to the roster that head coach Lance Calloway picks for his side. BUFC will be bolstered by the additions of talent from other current and former league sides. The Hammers will play for a 6th consecutive season at Civic Stadium.
The Spokane Shadow won the EPLWA in both 2014 and 2015 before slipping to third last season (they tied BUFC on points with 28 but the Hammers swept the season series with the Shadow.) In the off-season the Shadow elected to join the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) but also to remain in the EPLWA. Much else remains a mystery as the Shadow are clearly positioning the NPSL side as their “First Team.” This likely means the EPLWA roster will feature advanced youth players from the large Shadow club system and perhaps NPSL reserves. No announcements have been made in regards to home venue or head coach for 2017.
WASHINGTON PREMIER SOUTH SOUND
The Shock of South Sound FC lengthened their name this off-season in a crucial and exciting collaboration with Washington Premier FC youth club. The new “Washington Premier South Sound” club will play its home matches at the WPFC Complex, giving the club a true ‘home’ for the first time in four seasons. The Shock will look to rebound under head coach Adam Becker after finishing 4th in 2016 – their lowest finish in three seasons. They are planning to bring in some Aussie talent to bolster their chances.
SEATTLE STARS FC
The Seattle Stars have spent three seasons in the lower half of the EPLWA table. After finishing 7th in 2014 and 2015 they crept up to 6th in 2016. That had to be in part because of the record-setting 14 goals of EPLWA all-time scoring leader Tyler Bjork. Now Seattle is gaining steam with new talents such as Brandon Gonzalez and Zac Newton. The club recently won the annual Rumble in the Rainforest in Port Angeles.
The Stars will again be coached by Omar Lara. They will play their home matches at French Field in Kent.
YAKIMA UNITED FC
The Hoppers of Yakima United Football Club are on the move from Marquette Stadium to SOZO Sports Complex in 2017. Head coach Hector Vega will oversee a side that finished 7th in the table in 2016, and will be looking to build back up from that lowest-ever spot. They might well be doing that with youth. Veteran defender Dennis Stevenson hung up his cleats at the end of last season. Former Wenatchee FC veteran Adrian Espinoza is on board and ready to help the YUFC offense.
The Olympic Force are title contenders indoors in the WISL, but success has been more difficult to accomplish in the EPLWA. Last year the Force finished bottom of the table after having finished up at 4th in 2015. Steve Cashmore will provide continuity as he returns as head coach (he is also gaffer of the WISL side). The club recently held open tryouts and continues to reach out to the greater Kitsap community. The Force plan to play at several different venues this season in the Kitsap area.
OLY TOWN ARTESIANS
The Oly Town Artesians are new to the Evergreen Premier League this year. They take the spot of the former Wenatchee FC which dropped out during the off-season. The league mourns the loss of a club for players in Wenatchee but is excited to see high level outdoor soccer come to the state capital. Oly Town will play at The Evergreen State College. The Artesians recently held open tryouts and announced their continued relationship with their title / shirt sponsor. Ray Finn will coach the outdoor Artesians, who just finished a playoff season in the WISL.