Hey Tacoma, plan on bringing out your soccer scarves two years early.
After agreeing six months ago to a partnership to bring Sounders 2 to Tacoma by 2020, the Seattle Sounders and Tacoma Rainiers announced Wednesday night they were moving up the timeline to next season.
That means starting in March – 2018 – the Sounders’ top developmental squad will be playing its home games at Cheney Stadium while it awaits a home of its own.
“The first time this idea was presented to me, I said, ‘Look, if we have this opportunity to go with some people who really know what they are doing in the Rainiers, why don’t we do it now?’” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerway said.
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“Why don’t we move it to Tacoma to play in front of 2,500 people? That is the audience we want to build as we move into the new soccer stadium.”
Part of the reason S2 is leaving its home at Starfire Sports in Tukwila has to do with a pending anti-trust lawsuit between U.S. Soccer and the North American Soccer League (NASL) that stipulates all Division II home venues have to be a minimum 5,000-person capacity. Starfire seats 4,000.
Lagerway admitted for the next two seasons, the S2 team had other options it could have pursued, but was convinced by the Rainiers they could make it work now at the old baseball park at Cheney Stadium.
“Those relationships (with the Rainiers) drove a lot of this,” Lagerway said.
Now it is on the Rainiers to make soccer viewable in a ballpark for the next two seasons.
This is not a new concept: At virtually every level of professional soccer in the United States, at least one franchise plays in a baseball stadium.
Back in the old NASL days of the 1970s, the New York Cosmos played their home matches at Yankee Stadium. And today, in Major League Soccer, New York City FC plays in the new Yankee Stadium.
In the USL, S2 in Tacoma will become the eighth different franchise to play in a baseball stadium.
“It will be a challenge to get our supporters, and even the casual fans to have the same experience they would in a soccer-specific stadium,” said Aaron Artman, president of the Rainiers.
Exhibition soccer matches were played in Cheney Stadium in 2012 and 2013, but the field of play was configured on the east side of the ballpark, near the right field wall, and mostly away from the grandstands.
This time around for 17 home matches, the soccer field will be configured further west near the third-base line.
Normally, under this new configuration, the field would go right over the dirt infield, and a protruding pitcher’s mound.
Artman said for every home S2 match, the pitcher’s mound will be removed in five parts, and the infield will be filled with sod grass.
When soccer is finished, and the Rainiers – whose season coincides with S2 – return home, everything will be put back in its original place.
“It is a big undertaking and a big investment, but I think if we roll out S2 with a bad configuration where the fans are far away, it would fail,” Artman said.
“I am excited about it, and I feel confident in what we can do. But I am curious and nervous as well. We haven’t done this before. I know other teams have ... and we want to be the good example.”
The rebranding of the S2 franchise to be more Tacoma-centric likely won't start until the 2019 season, at the earliest, Artman said. Artman is also confident that a soccer-specific stadium will be in place near Cheney Stadium by 2020.