Sounders FC

Stadium could lure Sounders 2 to Tacoma

Aaron Artman, President of the Tacoma Rainiers baseball club (left) and Ben Cheney, for whom the Rainiers' ballpark is named. Photo taken March 28, 2014.
Aaron Artman, President of the Tacoma Rainiers baseball club (left) and Ben Cheney, for whom the Rainiers' ballpark is named. Photo taken March 28, 2014. phaley@thenewstribune.com, File

The Tacoma Rainiers are working to bring the Sounders 2 USL soccer team to Tacoma.

Many steps would have to be taken before the move could happen, and S2’s first kick in Pierce County is at least a couple of seasons away. But management of the two teams are interested.

“We’re short on details and high on aspiration right now,” Rainiers president Aaron Artman said. “There are a ton of moving parts, but there’s a real interest specifically from Metro Parks in leading this from the government side of figuring out how we get this done.”

The make-or-break moving part is the creation of a soccer stadium in Tacoma. The Rainiers and Sounders agree Cheney Stadium isn’t suitable — if it were, Sounders 2 probably would have settled in Tacoma from the start instead of its current home at Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila.

However, Metro Parks Tacoma is in the midst of a feasibility study assessing the need for more fields to accommodate all levels of amateur soccer in Pierce Country.

“One of the things that came up in that discussion was whether or not a centerpiece of this project could be a professional stadium for USL — in addition to that showpiece stadium being a championship destination for high school, colleges, youth soccer, premier, etc.,” Artman said. “At that point I called (Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer), and we started discussing how Tacoma could be a home for the Sounders USL affiliate potentially — similar to how we are down here for the Mariners.”

The Sounders use S2 to develop players for the MLS first team. The USL is the third rung of the United States soccer pyramid, below MLS and the second-division North American Soccer League.

Hanauer said he trusts the Rainiers’ knowledge of the South Sound and their ability to stage a gameday experience for fans. And gamedays in Tacoma would be the only real change, as S2 is expected to continue training alongside the MLS Sounders at Starfire.

“On the business side, we think there’s enormous potential to develop a strong fan base for Tacoma,” Hanauer said. “(And) certainly to mine fans potentially for the Sounders.”

Artman said he would expect S2 to adopt “Tacoma” as part of its name, and Hanauer said he was open to rebranding. Such details haven’t yet been discussed deeply, nor has the issue of ownership, although Hanauer said some equity and control would shift from Seattle.

Both parties seem to believe the details would fall into place if the stadium challenge is solved. Artman said he sees a facility accommodating about 5,000 spectators as ideal, although he added the number of permanent seats could be lower if there were features such as party decks and grass berms, which have proven popular at Cheney Stadium.

Assistant executive director Shon Sylvia said Metro Parks’ study is likely to continue for another six months, and will consider issues such as fields, tenants, location — and ultimately funding.

“We probably wouldn’t go out of the gate to the voters,” he said. “It really is looking at existing dollars, as well as whatever potential revenues would make sense. That’s kind of a premature question for us. … We’re pretty excited about the potential opportunity, and if the community wants it then we need to figure out how to deliver.”

Artman said if all went well, the team might play its first season in Tacoma in 2018, although 2019 seems more likely.

The USL season runs from March to September. S2’s next match is 7:30 Tuesday, at home against Rio Grande Valley FC.

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By Don Ruiz druiz@thenewstribune.com
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