Washington Premier FC team captain Micah Wenzel gets some hang time. Wenzel was a standout performer at Bellarmine Prep before taking his skills to the University of Puget Sound. Photo by Rocky Ross

It was a sun-soaked evening at the Washington Premier Complex in Puyallup, and somehow, the play on the main field was even hotter than what the thermometer was claiming. On Sunday, July 22, Washington Premier FC (formerly South Sound FC) welcomed their bitter rivals from Bellingham United to Puyallup with a ticket to the Evergreen Premier League championship match on the line.

The two clubs have had a history of putting together some of the most rough and tumble matches of the season. With this contest being a semifinal, both squads would leave everything they had on the field.

It would take a hat trick from veteran Brandon Madsen to earn the 3-2 victory for WPFC (10-1-0). Bellingham (5-5-1) scored their second goal with just minutes to spare and were unable to find the equalizer as the home team turned away several Hammer scoring opportunities.

If the Seattle Stars hope to score some goals in the EPLWA final, they will have to get past veteran Eli Peterson. Photo by Rocky Ross

Now, the local boys find themselves one win away from hoisting a trophy they have now been chasing for five seasons. Standing in their way on Sunday, July 29, will be the Seattle Stars FC (8-2-1), a squad that upended WPFC by a score of 3-2 in June. The championship match begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Washington Premier Complex in Puyallup.

We caught up with long-time team captain Micah Wenzel after the match, and as usual, he had some great insight about his club and the situation they now find themselves in.

TW – “You guys have always had a strong rivalry with Bellingham. Knocking them off three times in a season had to feel special, especially with the last one being a semifinal match. Thoughts?

MW – “Beating any team three times in a season is a tall order and beating Bellingham three times is even more difficult. The fact that a lot of us in this group lost to Bellingham while playing in the WISL championship sweetens the pot that much more. Bellingham always brings a strong team to the table but this year we’ve had the same mentality every week – one game, championship mentality every week, and then once we get to the championship, it’s just another game.”

TW – “After years of playing for the Evergreen Premier League title with just a regular season to go by, how does it feel to finally have a playoff system, and here you are in the first league title match?”

MW – “The league based champion system the EPLWA employed for the prior four years was a good system, but the season was just too short to work with, in my opinion. Most leagues that use the points-based model are playing a lot more games, so you get a better indication of all the teams’ full body of work. We had champion caliber teams many of the last four seasons, but would drop an unnecessary game on the east side or have an off game at home and lose the title race by a half game. Considering how well we’ve done this year, we would have clinched the title already with the prior point-based system, but I’m even more happy for the opportunity to finish this season in a true championship game.”

TW – “Seattle edged your squad 3-2 on your own turf in June in your only meeting of the season. What’s it going to take to knock them off this time around?”

MW – “Seattle has a very strong team and we’re familiar with a lot of their key players and style of play. They have a lot of offensive firepower and a strong midfield. We felt a bit unlucky with the result at home against them this season but we didn’t capitalize on our chances and in the end Seattle wanted it more. Keys to winning this round will be locking up their dangerous attack, especially that of (Tyler) Björk and (Cody) Buchanan up top and putting a lot of pressure on their midfield to deny entry balls into those two. For us going forward we will look to finish our chances and continue creating even more chances the way we have all season long.”

TW – “There are still several South Sound FC Shock players on your team. What does it mean to be able to continue the Shock legacy, even though the club wears a different badge now as Washington Premier FC?”

MW – “There are only a handful of players in this year’s group that weren’t involved with the team while it was South Sound FC, so the culture that we developed as the Shock hasn’t changed at all since changing our name to WPFC and working within the club. I can’t say enough for the foundation that John Crouch and Adam Becker have made for this team, but working with WPFC has afforded the team some amazing resources. An amazing facility to call home in the shadow of Mount Rainier, and a top coach with amazing experience in Roy Lassiter. I grew up playing with FC United (now WPFC) from the time I was 10 years old, so this is home for me. The majority of the players on our team played for WPFC growing up as well. As for continuing the legacy of the Shock, it would be a great time to add a championship to the trophy cabinet. We’ve been in the hunt every year and have fallen just short several times. Additionally, Danny Minniti one, of our leaders and players who’s been around from the start, broke his leg in training a few weeks back, so I’d love nothing more than to see my boy Danny lifting that trophy on Sunday.”

WPFC’s Adrian Correa uses his speed to cause the opposition fits. Photo by Rocky Ross

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