01/18/2014 2:09 PM
Ever since Bellingham United FC had their first kick off, Whatcom County has embraced the “Beautiful Game” like never before.
However, even though the buzz surrounding the Hammers has taken things to a new level here in the North Sound, the soccer culture was alive and well long before the boys in black and white. Youth soccer has always been an important piece of athletics in Whatcom County and there is little doubt that teams like Bellingham United wouldn’t be here without that history.
With all that said, who better to talk to about the impact that Bellingham United FC has had on youth soccer – and vice versa – than Hammers’ defender, Matthew Zigulis? Zigulis; a product of Western Washington University, not only plays soccer, but also happens to be the Head Coach of Bellingham High School’s “Red Raiders”. I was fortunate enough to chat with “Ziggy” recently about his coaching, his playing and…..just little bit of World Cup. Hope you all enjoy it.
B: It's been roughly six months since BUFC's second season came to an end. How did it feel to get some good starts under your belt this past season?
Z: It felt fantastic. Any extended leave from the game only makes you hungrier to get back out there for more. I definitely missed the atmosphere of playing at home and getting to walk out on the field with some of my closest friends – it doesn't get much better than that.
B: What have you been up to since then?
Z: I've been trying to stay healthy - but that really hasn't been working out too well. I re-injured my ankle last season and just recently suffered another setback while playing indoor, so my biggest priority is to stay out of the boot and not rush into things. Off the field, I’m back in the classroom teaching 3rd grade and coaching.
B: You had a very successful season coaching Bellingham High School's Red Raiders soccer team last year as well. Tell us a little about what that season was like for you.
Z: That was definitely a season I’ll never forget. We went undefeated through league and districts (losing in the district championship on PKs), and then eventually making it to the quarterfinals of state. The guys were phenomenal both on and off the field, with a couple of the players even playing with BUFC over the summer. They were a special group that set aside individual egos to play for one another and show up every game. Although we didn't get as far as we wanted, it would be hard to find another team (high school or not) as successful as them.
B: How do you feel soccer has changed in Whatcom County since Bellingham United's inception as a semi pro team, especially on a youth level?
Z: While soccer has always had a certain type of appeal in Whatcom, I believe that Bellingham United has opened the door for both the hardcore enthusiast, and the curious onlooker. More people are finding the appeal of being able to watch competitive soccer in their own backyard, whereas Seattle was their only other option before. The team has had a huge positive impact on the youth level by making the game more accessible and sparking an interest early on. It provides a great outlet for all of the different youth teams to be able to go and actually watch a game, chase the soccer balls, meet the players afterward, and maybe even be coached by one of them later on. Some of the students I teach see the players as heroes, even if they haven’t been to a game.
B: How has coaching youth soccer affected you as a player, as well as other fellow players who also coach?
Z: Being a coach has definitely given me a new perspective on the game. It helps to know what I expect as a coach, and then be able to translate that back on the field as a player. And then as a coach, I can relate my experiences on the field to the players on my team.
B: The World Cup in just around the corner...any predictions?
Z: It’s going to be hard to ignore Brazil since they are hosting, but I really like Germany. They have some of the best players in the world (who coincidentally also play for Arsenal), and have looked like Iceland going through the Jr Olympic Goodwill hockey games. Hopefully by the time they face US in group play they will have already qualified for the next round and be resting players so we can get some kind of result.
B: What are your plans for 2014?
Z: Teach, coach, get healthy, play soccer, recover from some other minor injuries, play again, win state, watch some world cup, grow old, and have fun.