Hey, Bleacher Bums: You might want to fetch your faded Hawaiian shirts from the attic. A professional version of the beautiful game could return to Tacoma after 25 years, and that’s a beautiful thing.
After an unusual courtship between two organizations representing different sports, Seattle Sounders FC and the Tacoma Rainiers announced Saturday that they’d sealed their relationship. Sounders 2, the second-tier club of the 2016 Major League Soccer champs, could be playing home games in a new stadium in Tacoma as soon as 2020.
That means future homegrown Sounders favorites — the next Jordan Morris or DeAndre Yedlin — could earn their first pro grass stains on a local soccer field. It also points to Tacoma becoming a focal point for youth soccer development and charitable outreach from the Sounders Community Trust.
Not since 1995, when the Rainiers affiliated with the Mariners and the pipeline of major-league baseball talent started flowing between Tacoma and Seattle, has there been such promise for Tacoma to make its mark on the professional sports map.
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And not since 1987, when the Tacoma Stars drew a record crowd to the Tacoma Dome for a raucous championship match, has there been such cause for high-fives among local soccer enthusiasts.
The Stars lost that match, despite fanatical support from the Bleacher Bums and others. The pro indoor-soccer league folded five years later. When the Tacoma Stars were reborn a few years ago, they signed a deal to play at ShoWare Center in Kent.
But the Sounders know Tacoma remains the heart and soul of soccer in the South Sound, or else they wouldn’t have forged a partnership with the Rainiers to make a home for Sounders 2.
The two organizations have signed a memorandum of understanding, which says the Rainiers will handle the business side of the operation while the Sounders oversee the soccer side.
“This is the art of the possible,” Rainiers President Aaron Artman said in a statement issued by the two organizations.
The excitement should be tempered, if only slightly, because possibilities don’t always blossom into realities.
Everything hinges on the Rainiers rallying the Tacoma community to help finance a 5,000-seat soccer stadium in close proximity to Cheney Stadium.
This will be no mean feat. The Cheney footprint is circumscribed by Foss High School on one side and state Route 16 on another. The parking lot at the ballpark needs all its spaces. And any stadium plans must be coordinated with the city — which owns Cheney and fronted the funds for a $30 million remodel in 2010 — as well as neighbors such as the Tacoma School District and Metro Parks Tacoma.
Those who have followed the years-long saga to build a professional basketball and hockey arena in Seattle know how complicated these deals can be.
One key difference with the Sounders-Rainiers pact is that they’re not trying to woo a team to the region; it’s already here.
Sounders 2 is based in Tukwila and will keep training there after the move to Tacoma. It is one of 30 teams making up the United Soccer League (USL), which feeds players into their parent MLS clubs.
Another selling point are the personal ties that bind the Sounders to the Tacoma Stars of yesteryear. Current Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer played for the Stars and first worked as an assistant coach for the argyle-jersey boys in the late ’80s. Northwest soccer icon Alan Hinton coached the Stars to 69 wins.
Among the unresolved details is a new name for the transplanted farm team. We propose: Sounders FC 253.
After waiting 25 years for pro soccer’s comeback, the city deserves a team with a brand all its own.