It wasn’t just the sting of seeing a potential victory and three points slip away in the Grays Harbor Gulls’ 3-3 tie to Kirkland FC on June 22, it was the missed opportunity to move further away from relegation.
The Gulls picked up a point in the standings with last month’s tie, but would have benefited more from three points as the team looks to stay in sixth place or higher to avoid being relegated to Division 2 in the Western Washington Premier League.
Starting next season, Division 1 and Division 2 teams would only compete amongst each other with the top teams in Division 1 eligible to drop down and the top teams in Division 2 able to move up.
The six teams who are considering joining the league next season would all enter the WWPL as members of Division 2 along with five teams who will finish in the bottom of the table at the end of the season.
Assistant coach and Gulls co-founder Ben Barene said the threat of being moved down to Division 2 added a lot of pressure to the end of the match.
“Last year, we could have been happy to tie against that team at home. We would have been happy to get a point and move on,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure on us in our last three games because we’re in that precarious position of having two teams behind us that could potentially catch us.”
The Gulls have picked up 12 points in seven matches this season and sit in fifth place, which would be good enough to keep them in Division 1 if the season ended last month.
The Gulls will have to do a bit of scoreboard watching in the final stretch of the season as Federal Way FC could overtake the Gulls. Federal Way has six points and only six game played which means they would need seven points in its last four matches to catch the Gulls if Grays Harbor can’t pick up points in its final two matches, after falling to Club America Nido Aguila Seattle on Sunday.
Grays Harbor full back Victor Corona played in the league last season before the threat of relegation was in place and said fighting to stay in Division 1 made last week’s match even more intense.
“It’s pretty nerve-racking. The last game we had was pretty critical because we had a tie and now we’re fighting to stay in a safe spot,” he said.
Having something to play for late in the season is something that Gulls head coach Drew Grannemann is trying to take advantage of the added pressure relegation can bring.
“It brings more validity to our league, for better or worse. It doesn’t change much aside from egos and bragging rights but for kids that are 20 to 22, that means a lot. For sponsors and fans that might not mean quite as much,” he said. “It’s a fun way to make it as competitive as possible without financial rewards at the end. It’s a good intrinsic way to motivate your club and yourself.”
When the idea was discussed in offseason meetings, Barene, who represented the Gulls at the proceedings, said the idea received near unanimous approval as the league looks to expand.
“One of the main goals for the league is growth. They wanted to add clubs and make it as competitive as possible,” he said. “We all agreed that the best way to make it super competitive is through relegation because it gives teams at the top and on the bottom something to play for throughout the season.”
One of the goals of relegation is to make the league a viable proving ground for clubs and coaches as it looks to add more teams while encouraging competitive play amongst the league’s best squads.
As the WWPL looks to add a second division to its league to model itself after other soccer leagues, Grannemann said that he has an obligation to bring out the best in his players while the league makes a move to highlight the best of its talent
“I think the feasibility of finding and developing talent and sending talent to other places; that’s what we want to do. Whether it’s the (Evergreen Premier League), WWPL, or community college we’d be happy to help out and move them along,” he said. “Even if we have to get rid of them, as long as they are doing something bigger and better, that’s all that matters to us.”