Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski speaks with the News Tribune after practice and discusses the team’s game at Cheney Stadium on Saturday.
Doubleheaders at Cheney Stadium have been common since the facility was built in 1960.
Saturday, the old place will see a new twist on the doubleheader: Two soccer games on one day.
The Reign FC gets things started with their 1 p.m. game against Sky Blue FC. Then Tacoma Defiance caps the day with their USL game against Reno 1868 at 7 p.m. at Cheney.
Actually, it’s not a doubleheader in the true sense where one ticket allows you to see both games. The teams are treating the games as separate events even if the staff will have to prepare the stadium twice.
Isaiah Dowdell, the stadium operations manager at Cheney Stadium, is confident his staff of over 100 can handle the cleanup and setup before the gates open at 5:30 p.m. for the Defiance match. He said he’s lucky that a lot of them have worked at Cheney before so they know what needs to be done.
“We’ve done this before. It is unique that we’re going into a doubleheader soccer game but logistically, everything’s the same,” Dowdell said.
With Cheney Stadium being home to three teams — the Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, the Tacoma Rainiers, play 70 games there — scheduling the Reign’s 12 home games and the Defiance’s 17 home games was tricky. Add in a handful of high school baseball games and the NWSL’s schedule is a bit tighter this year because of the upcoming Women’s World Cup is forcing teams into weekend dates, and you get a situation like Saturday.
Rainiers president Aaron Artman, who’s also the president of the We R Tacoma group that oversees operations for the Reign and Defiance, said their were discussions about having two soccer games in one day and that it just happened because of the requirements of each of the teams.
“We had to fit it in within windows where we weren’t playing baseball,” Artman said. “The USL schedule came out first and we nailed down the Defiance dates, then the NWSL schedule came out and they wanted a game this day so we just decided to have two matches that day.”
This is only the Reign’s second game at Cheney in their first season playing in Tacoma. They played before a crowd of 5,323 in the home opener, a 1-1 draw against the Orlando Pride on April 21.
Things have changed since then. Reign FC will be without Megan Rapinoe and Allie Long who have been selected by the U.S. Women’s National Team and are currently training for the World Cup, which begins on June 7. Also away on national team duty are Rumi Utsugi (Japan) and Celia Jimenez-Delgado, who is in camp with Spain’s national team although the country has yet to announce its roster.
Three members of Australia’s national team — Steph Catley, Lydia Williams, and Elise Kellond-Knight — are still with the Reign although Saturday could be their last appearance before reporting to training.
And while the Reign could have as many eight players in the Women’s World Cup, they’re still searching for their first win of the season. The team is 0-1-3 and in seventh place out of nine NWSL teams.
Catley was impressed with their crowd in the Reign’s Tacoma debut. She’s hoping for a similar atmosphere on Saturday against Sky Blue FC, which is in eighth place with an 0-2-3 record.
“The excitement and the interest is what stood out to me,” Catley said. “Every touch, every play that happened on the field you could see the whole crowd getting into it. They were cheering and getting excited and there was a buzz that I hadn’t felt before.”
The Defiance (2-9-0) are deeper into their season and Saturday’s game is their sixth at Cheney Stadium. They’re hoping to snap a six-game winless streak.