Gateway: Sports

Gig Harbor native Waltman returns to play for Tacoma Stars

While Danny Waltman was perfectly content putting down his roots in Kansas City, he always had an itch to get back to the Pacific Northwest. That’s why, in his contract with the Missouri Comets, a Major Arena Soccer League powerhouse, he had a clause: If the Tacoma Stars ever returned, he would be allowed to opt out and return to Tacoma.

Well, the Stars are back, and Waltman, a 33-year-old goalkeeper and Gig Harbor native, is back, too. The veteran goalkeeper represents the first official signing by the Stars as the franchise prepares for its first full season playing in the Major Arena Soccer League.

“I was really happy (in Missouri),” Waltman said. “Our team was winning and we had the most fun doing it. We were a family. It took us five years to build that. It was extremely hard to leave. I love my life there; it’ll always be home. There’s just something about playing for the Stars. My whole career, I was just kind of waiting for the Stars to come back.”

Sitting at a table at one of the left field party decks on Thursday evening at Cheney Stadium, Waltman looked in his element, sporting a bright orange Tacoma Stars jersey with his name etched across the back. Waltman has a special bond with the Tacoma Stars franchise, which will be playing its games at the ShoWare Center in Kent. He grew up going to Stars games as one of the team’s biggest fans.

“I was the kid in the locker room and at practice, hanging out and getting autographs,” Waltman said. “It’s cool to have it come full circle, playing for a team that I grew up with, falling in love with soccer and watching it. These guys had such a huge impact on my life.”

Waltman’s girlfriend, Lani Odell, a professional photographer, will be joining Waltman in the fall. By then, Waltman hopes to have a home purchased with enough room for the couple’s three dogs and two cats to roam around. Waltman’s personal and professional life will have a theme of “new,” with the Stars trying to build a roster from scratch.

“Building a team is the biggest challenge,” Waltman said. “Indoor soccer is a different game. You can take great outdoor players and they’re going to need time to adjust, time to learn the game. I think with the help of me and hopefully a few other veteran players, we can build a good team. There’s so much local talent here, so much soccer talent.”

While building a new roster is likely the biggest challenge the stars will face, Waltman doesn’t expect that obstacle to be insurmountable. If anything, he has embraced the challenge.

“We expect to do well,” Waltman said. “We definitely want to be in the playoffs the first year. We know it’s going to be challenging but those are the goals we have. We want to build a championship contender in a couple seasons. With the talent we have around here, with the way the organization is being run and the beautiful place we have to live in, I know players are going to want to come here.”

The Stars officially begin the team’s 2015 campaign on Nov. 6.

“Danny is the top goalkeeper in our league,” Darren Sawatzky, current head coach and general manager for the Stars, said in a release announcing Waltman’s signing. “We are lucky that he is a Tacoma boy, wants to come home, and that he has great character.”

Thursday was Waltman’s first time seeing the inside of the new Cheney Stadium.

“It looks a little different than the last time I was here,” he said. “It’s so beautiful. It’s always been a great stadium; it just has unbelievable character to it.”

Spoken like a true Tacoman, indeed.