Midfielder Sean Connor will enter his third season with Bellingham United FC when the Black and White compete in the Evergreen Premier League in 2014. The Mount Vernon native is one of a group of Hammers that stretch the club’s reach for supporters and talent beyond Whatcom County. Sean is a tough-as-nails type of player that makes the middle a tough place to be for Hammers foes.
Connor is a Skagit product, from his youth career right on up. “Growing up in this area I played for several club teams. I started with Skagit Storm, moved to WFC Rangers for U14 and U15, then went down south to Northwest Nationals Pharaohs, and ended with Crossfire,” he says.
“I attended Mount Vernon High School and played four years on varsity there. Playing with NWN and Crossfire I had the opportunity to play in lots of major tournaments in the USA such as Dallas Cup, North Huntington Beach, and Nomads. Playing in these tournaments was probably my favorite aspect of my youth career as I was exposed to the best youth players in the country. I was also fortunate to be a part of an exciting time in US soccer because popularity was ( and still is) skyrocketing and the level of play was improving so quickly. This required me to hold my teammates and myself to a high standard and really played a huge part in my own development.”
College ball was an intense time for Sean, a time of adjustment and becoming a ‘adult player.’ “In my opinion my first two years of college soccer was a time when I improved the most as a player. I red-shirted at Gonzaga, so I didn’t play in games during the fall season, just practiced. But the level I was exposed to was incredible. In fact, we made the NCAA tournament that year and had several seniors get drafted to the MLS and others continue to play professionally. Playing at Gonzaga taught me to compete with players who are better than me and to be truly dedicated to balancing athletics and academics.” Connor then transferred to Western Washington, back across the state and much closer to home. “Playing at WWU was also a great experience. I made a lot of great friends while playing on a very competitive team. A solid core group of guys I played with at WWU over the years remains the core group of guys for Bellingham United.”
Not much is written about the adult soccer scene in the greater Skagit area, but Connor says its bustling. “The predominant league in Mount Vernon is called the San Carlos League. This is a primarily Hispanic league and the level has increased over the years; likely due to success with local high schools and youth soccer programs. I’ve been a coach for MVHS soccer for several years now and it’s been fun to see the level increase every year. Northwest United (formerly Skagit Storm) has also been steadily improving as a youth club. Last year we had several guys from Skagit County make appearances for Bellingham United, so that was fun to see. The Bellingham soccer scene is also booming. In the summer adult leagues play at northwest soccer park and in the winter they play indoor at the Sportsplex. The WFC Ranger program (I coach U12 boys) has more and more success every year. Of course, Bellingham United (and indoor WSA Rapids) play a big part in that by giving youth soccer players a local team to support and strive to one day play for.”
Sean was one of a duo of BUFC players to participate in an exchange with Dutch side VV Zwammerdam in early 2013. “Having the opportunity to play in Holland was an amazing experience. I learned a lot about myself both as a player and a person,” he relates. “As a player, I quickly learned that playing at the level of the players around me wasn’t going to be good enough. Since Brendan (Quilici) and I were only there for a month, playing in matches meant that we would be taking a spot away from a player that was already an established member of the team. So I knew that I had to do something that set myself apart. Brendan and I played in games every week while we were there, so I learned that I was able to do just that. As a person, you have to be able to adapt both to soccer and to a new culture and way of life. The weather was super cold and windy, the food different, and Dutch was the primary language. Being able to adapt to your external environment was a huge key to success and Brendan and I worked hard to not let these variables affect our soccer and travel experience.”
The next challenge for Sean and his club will be trying to win the inaugural championship in the Evergreen Premier League. Connor is pleased that his club has played such a central role in getting the EPLWA off the ground.
“I think it’s great that Bellingham United will be helping to establish EPL Washington,” he says with a pinch of pride. “There has been a great need for a league like this in Washington for years now in order to offer players an opportunity to play soccer either in preparation for a college/university season or for those who are done with college soccer. Bellingham United has a quality team, a solid fan base, a great venue, and a grounded administration. All of these attributes will help establish a high level league for the huge amount of talent in Washington state.”
Connor says the Hammers want to win the league they are helping to start, and that they have good reason to enter into the competition with confidence.
“The PCSL (Pacific Coast Soccer League, where the Hammers played in 2012 and 2013) is a very competitive and physical league. The core group we have with Bellingham United has been playing together for years extending far beyond the last two PCSL seasons. So that understanding of each other will certainly provide us with an advantage. Perhaps most significantly, we have a very competitive group of guys. We have had some success in Bellingham United’s first two seasons, reaching the semis of the PCSL each year. However, I think most of the players would agree we felt that we underachieved. So while we will certainly need to take the upcoming season a game at a time since all the teams are relatively unknown, we will be looking to win the league.”
There’s a sense of pride in playing for what amounts to your “hometown club.” (Bellingham is under 30 miles from Mount Vernon.) It all resonates for Connor as match time approaches.
“Putting on a Hammers kit is a significant ritual!,” Sean exclaims. “I’ve played in the PCSL for 7 or 8 years already for a couple different teams (mostly for the PSSA Rapids a few years back). Bellingham United is different in the sense that we have a fairly large fan base, so wearing a Bellingham United jersey gives the feeling that you are a representative and ambassador for the Bellingham community. The word “PRIDE” is inscribed on the back of our jerseys, and I think everyone on the match day squad takes that pretty literally and tries to make everyone affiliated with Bellingham United proud.”
After the kit goes on, Connor takes his own moment to gear up for battle.
“Personally, to get ready for a match I have a couple of things I always do. I’m usually pretty quiet, and though I’m not a superstitious person, I’ve always put my left shoe on first (not sure where that came from). Even though I’ve played in hundreds or thousands of soccer games, I still get nervous before every game. So I make sure to take a couple of minutes to myself, usually right before kickoff, to gather my thoughts and take a few deep breaths. By the time the whistle blows, I’m relaxed and ready to go.”
photos by David Willoughby and David Falk.
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