After playing second fiddle for the past four years, the local boys from Washington Premier FC finally hoisted the Evergreen Premier League championship trophy on Sunday, July 29. Playing under sun-drenched skies and in front of an overflow crowd at the Washington Premier Complex that numbered well over 500, WPFC would end up dismantling the defending champion Seattle Stars by a score of 5-1.
The frightening thing about this match was that the score could have been even more lopsided, without some exceptional saves from the Seattle defense.
Coming into the game, the Stars boasted the top scoring offense in the league. It was going to take everything that the WPFC defense could muster to keep Seattle from getting into an offensive flow, and that is exactly what they did. From the opening whistle, the WPFC defense began tamping down and pinching off Seattle’s runs into the vicinity of the WPFC goal. The result was a disjointed effort for the Stars, offensively, and a shot in the arm for Washington Premier’s offense.
The league’s leading scorer put Washington Premier on the scoreboard first. In the fourth minute of the match, Brandon Madsen found himself wide open on the left hand side of the goalkeeper’s box. Playing in traffic, team captain Micah Wenzel redirected the ball out of the mass of bodies and to the feet of Madsen. The lanky striker slapped a low burner past Seattle goalkeeper Rhys Salmon, and Washington Premier was off and running with a 1-0 lead.
It would mark the fourth goal of the post-season for Madsen, and he wasn’t even close to being finished.
It would take more than 30 minutes for either team to find the back of the net again, and it would be a second goal for the home side. Alex Whiting was able to draw the Seattle defense toward him on a run up the left side of the field. At the last moment, Whiting punched a cross-field pass to Kyle Rivers, who set himself up with a couple of dribbles, and pounded a low blast that squeezed under the goalkeeper and just inside the right post. Washington Premier now led 2-0 with eight minutes remaining in the first half of play.
It looked as though the score would hold until the halftime whistle, but a foul inside the Washington Premier goal box gave Seattle a penalty kick opportunity by Tyler Bjork. The perennial offensive powerhouse crushed a mid-level blast toward the left side that WPFC goalkeeper Mike Arguello was able to get his fingers on. However, the ball was struck with a bit too much pepper for Arquello to stop, and it found the back-left of the net. The teams would enter halftime with Washington Premier holding a 2-1 advantage.
Midway through the first half, WPFC veteran JJ Schmeck found himself on the wrong end of a hard tackle and had to leave the game. The eventual champions would have to play the remainder of the game without one of their most potent offensive threats.
Luckily for Washington Premier, every other player seemed to step up their game a notch, and the team seemed even more determined upon taking the championship.
“I wanted to try and push my way through the game to continue playing, but it just wasn’t something that I could do,” said Schmeck. “And I had enough faith in my team to know that I could sit and they would still get the job done.”
Washington Premier made a goalkeeper change at halftime, bringing in Carlos Rodriguez, after a solid first half from Arquello. The new keeper would make his presence felt immediately. Bjork found himself with a one-on-one opportunity behind the WPFC defense and the veteran sent a low-blast toward what appeared to be an open spot in the home team’s goal. However, Rodriguez was already moving, having made the correct guess as to where the shot was going, and the Seattle scoring chance was snuffed out.
Nearly 10 minutes into the second half, Madsen’s post-season legend would grow just a little more. Washington Premier’s Eddie Brown crossed a pass to the far side of the Seattle goal, and Madsen had found some open space. An easy header into the back of the net gave Washington Premier a 3-1 lead, and Madsen’s second goal of the match.
It would only take four more minutes for Madsen to put a cherry on top of his MVP performance. Rivers found Madsen making a run up the right side, and a quick kick put the ball into the back of the net. The score was now 4-1 for Washington Premier, and Seattle appeared to be playing without a rudder. Washington Premier’s defense had taken the Stars completely out of their offensive flow, and it was paying off in spades on the scoreboard.
While he wouldn’t find the back of the net again, Madsen had his hand in the fifth and final goal of the match. Drawing the defense toward himself on the right side, Madsen found Kodai Lida flashing through the middle of the box. The veteran slipped the ball to Lida, and after a quick dribble and kick, the home team now led 5-1 with 26 minutes remaining in regulation.
Seattle appeared to find a little life after another foul gave the Stars a penalty kick. Juan Carlos Betancourt lined up the shot and sent a low ball toward the left side of the goal. Again, Rodriguez made the correct guess, and the second-half goalkeeper pounced on the ball before it passed the goal-line.
Overall, it was a perfect example of how the match went for Seattle. No matter what the Stars threw at Washington Premier, the home team defense was just too much for them.
“Our defensive effort on Sunday was massive,” said Wenzel. “We’re so passionate about defending that we get in fights at training and in games about how we should have handled a situation where we were broken down.
“The few chances Seattle was able to create were deflated by our tireless, determined defending or swept up with a big save from our goalkeepers. With so many failed chances, Seattle’s attack was never really able to get rolling.”
After playing on teams that were almost good enough to win the title in the past, the championship victory was something special for the veteran Wenzel.
“It’s a very exciting time to be a part of this club,” said Wenzel. “I’ve been here from the start and seen the league develop and teams improve and win a championship and then fall off. I don’t see that type of decline coming here anytime soon. The win and the celebration is one of best experiences I’ve ever had in my life.”