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Who is Ballard FC and what did they just win?

Everything you need to know about Seattle’s newest championship-winning club.

Last Updated
6 min read

Ballard FC joined the ever-growing list of Seattle soccer champions, beating Lionsbridge FC in front of nearly 3,500 fans at Starfire Stadium on Saturday.

Being a rather new team who plays in a league that was itself renamed only a few years ago, though, it would make sense if the general soccer fan doesn’t really know much about them. Let’s change that...

Can you start with the basics?

Ballard FC first began play in 2022, shortly after announcing themselves. They were an immediate success, regularly selling out 1,500-seat Interbay Stadium and advancing to the USL League 2 Western Conference finals. Their roster was filled with players with connections to both the Sounders Academy and local colleges, and even had former USL Sounder Jason Farrell as the head coach.

What is USL League 2?

Do you happen to remember the PDL? Well, this is just the renamed version of that league. Like that league, this is unofficially considered a fourth-division in the U.S. Soccer Federation pyramid, below professional leagues like MLS (Division I), USL Championship (Division II), MLS Next Pro (Division III), NISA (DIII) and USL League One (DIII). Although the USSF only officially sanctions the top three leagues, it does recognize USL2 as a national league and grants teams spots in the U.S. Open Cup. Although there used to be professional teams in the PDL, all the teams in USL2 are fully amateur and participants retain NCAA eligibility. The league is formally considered part of the “pro pathway” and limits how many players each team can have that are older than 23. The vast majority of players are either still in college or just finished.

The league had 122 teams this year that were broken up into four conferences and 18 division. Teams played anywhere from 11-14 games in the regular season with eight from each conference advancing to the playoffs. Ballard won the Northwest Division, which has six teams spread out from Eugene, Ore. to Seattle. They went 10-1-1 with a +28 goal-difference.

Ballard is actually the second team from Washington to win this championship, matching Kitsap Pumas’ achievement from 2011.

Tell me more about the U.S. Open Cup involvement.

Although the exact number of teams fluctuates each year and the format for 2024 has not yet been announced, USL2/PDL teams have always participated in the Open Cup. In both 2011 and 2016, the Kitsap even got a chance to play the Sounders.

Thanks to their USL2 championship, Ballard now has the top priority to get into the Open Cup, all but ensuring their participation.

How likely is it they’d play the Sounders?

In order for Ballard FC to play the Sounders, they’d likely need to win at least two games and one of those would probably be against a professional opponent. Like I said, however, this is hardly unprecedented as one or two amateur teams make it at least to the the third round almost every year. A bit has changed since Kitsap last played the Sounders, too, as there’s now more of a formal draw that creates the specific matchups in each round. Still, it’s pretty fun to think about.

What would Ballard’s roster look like for a potential Open ‘Cup game?

As you may have gathered, USL2 rosters tend to change a lot from season to season. That’s an even bigger issue for the Open Cup, which usually starts about two months before the USL2 season. The good news for Ballard is that all but a few players are based and/or from here, so it’s at least reasonably feasible that they could throw together a team that looks vaguely similar to the one that just won the league.

Photo by Blake Dahlin

What can you tell me about their players?

The unquestioned star of the team is a 22-year-old forward named Stas Korzeniowski, who is going to be a senior at Penn this year and is coming off an 11-goal, seven-assist campaign in 2022. He scored 19 goals during the entire USL2 campaign, including six in the playoffs. He didn’t win the Golden Ball, which is awarded on regular-season goals, but he did league the league in goals across all-competitions. Among his playoff goals were a hat trick in the Western Conference final and a goal in the National Final, a game in which he played much of it with a bandaged head before being ejected late. He’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 194 pounds, so definitely has some attractive physical attributes. The Sounders have definitely been watching him, even if there are still some questions about how his skillset will translate to the pros.

What about locals?

Honestly, there are too many to detail all of them, but there were four starters in the final who spent at least some time in the Sounders Academy. Peter Kingston, who was credited with the championship-winning goal, spent most of his youth career with the Sounders and played a couple seasons at Seattle University before transferring to the University of Washington this year. Danny Robles actually played professionally with the Tacoma Defiance for a few seasons. Leo Burney played several years for the Sounders and even made three appearances with Sounders 2 in USL. Charlie Gaffney played a year with the Sounders Academy before joining the Timbers Academy.

In fact, there were only two starters and just a couple of others on the roster who didn’t grow up and/or attend college here.

Who’s the coach?

Former USL Sounder Jason Farrell was the head coach for the inaugural season and for most of the second season before leaving to take an assistant job with Seattle University. He was replaced by Ethan O’Neill, an Irishman who has previously coached at the youth level with both Seattle Celtic and Seattle United. Ballard went 7-0-0 under O’Neill, including the playoffs.

Who else is involved in running the team?

Former Sounders Lamar Neagle is one of the co-founders, along with Ballard High alums Sam Zisette and Chris Kaimmer. Zisette, who played in college and with the Pumas in PDL, seems to be the most involved on a day-to-day basis.

Photo by Blake Dahlin

What about their fans?

Their supporters group is called the Bridge Keepers and they do a march from a local bar to the game, very similar to what ECS does ahead of Sounders games. It’s obviously a bit smaller of a group but everyone I’ve talked to raves about the atmosphere they’ve helped create at Interbay Stadium where they often pack in about 1,500 fans. They managed to get more than 3,400 out to Starfire for the final.

How likely are any of these players to go pro?

As recently as a few years ago, it was very common for many top MLS players to have come through the PDL. Most players who get picked in the MLS SuperDraft still have played at this level, but it’s far less common to find top players who followed this path. That said, I know the Sounders have been tracking Korzeniowski and I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least a few others continue their careers after college.

Could Ballard FC move up to a higher league?

When I interviewed Zisette and Neagle on Nos Audietis, they pointedly didn’t dismiss the idea, but gave no indication that any such move is imminent. As successful as Ballard FC have been — selling out games and winning championships — the step up from semi-professional to fully professional is massive, probably bigger in a relative sense than going from the lower-divisions to MLS. Players aren’t paid, they travel by bus and the season is only a few months long, even including the playoffs.

If Ballard were to even move up to USL League One — the next step on the pyramid — they’d suddenly be responsible for paying all the players, funding travel all over the country and navigating a season that runs from April to October. They’d also have to find a place to play, since their current home at Interbay Stadium is pretty limited and a significant part of their charm is that they’re basically a neighborhood team.

But with Memorial Stadium due to get a massive renovation and not being that far from Ballard, it becomes a little easier to imagine what their pro pathway might look like. I don’t necessarily think that’s the most likely scenario, but based on what they’ve accomplished with such limited resources in such a small amount of time I wouldn’t suggest betting against that possibility either.