Sounders Insider

Sounders Reserves/USL Pro could turn Tacoma into "Soccer City South"

It was announced yesterday that Sounders FC will play an MLS Reserve League match against Orlando City SC of the USL Pro league at Tacoma's Cheny Stadium. (Here's our story from today's paper.)

Beyond what's in that story, I also spoke with Aaron Artman, president of the Tacoma Rainiers, and Lane Smith, owner of Sounders Women and Sounders U-23 (which played at Cheney last year).

Here's more of what they had to say:

AARON ARTMANOn the game and what it might lead to: I think it’s a cool even to be hosting sometime similar to a triple-a model for soccer as we move toward this USL model. So it’s a great event to host this year. But I think for us, the Sounders and the community in general, it gives us an opportunity to see how much we can pack this place out and – Adrian’s point in the press release – test the market to a degree to see if this would be a viable location for their eventual USL Pro-league team made up of prospects and things of that nature. We’re taking it really seriously. We’ve hosted soccer matches out here before, but we haven’t ever done what probably needs to be done, which is bring the field as close as it can be to the stands. So we’re resodding the entire infield. We’re basically running the entire field right down the third-base line so most of the seating bowl is either behind the goal or right down the line of the field … so that those who do come out actually get a soccer experience, not a soccer field way out beyond the infield of a baseball stadium – and see how it works.

On if the Rainiers might be involved with ownership of a USL Pro team: We’re not far enough along yet to know that, but I think we would want to participate on some level. I think there’s a way there could be a partnership on the actual franchise, there could be a way we’re a sales and marketing and operations partner and host the games at Cheney Stadium. It depends really on two things: How does the (Tacoma) market react, and how does the Sounders fan base both down the South Sound and up north, is it something they’re interested in. And the second part of that comes down to, if you look at it on a long-term basis – let’s say that we decided to be involved on some level – we’ve got a lot of work to do to figure out how to schedule games in between our own baseball games, because that’s still obviously our core entity out here. So, it’s too early to tell. I’ll tell you where we are, we’re very interested in making this Soccer City South if we can, from Seattle, and having some kind of partnership. But it really depends on how this event goes and then down the road how the Sounders and their relationship with USL and where they want to play develops. I think everybody’s in with kind of open arms and open eyes. We just started talking about this about a month ago trying to figure out how it can work. Now we’re interested in seeing how it does, in fact, work. And then we can figure out these longer things afterwards if it’s a fit.

LANE SMITHOn the origins of the plan: MLS and USL partnered up to have this vision of working toward a relationship very similar to what baseball teams have, where you have your Major League team like the Mariners and then you have like the Rainiers, your Triple-A affiliate. …

Adrian and I have been chatting over the last six months, and he’s thinking that from a technical standpoint – meaning player development, coaches being able to see them easier, all those types of things – that a relationship like the Mariners and the Rainiers have would be a great thing.

We had a couple of U-23 games last year where we did not change the field. This game will bring in sod, and it will look like an actual soccer field, not a soccer field squeezed into a baseball park. ... This situation, we’re all kind of investing to put sod down to see if that financial model could work. It’s all about getting enough people to go to the games.

Adrian came down to Cheney along with the technical staff. I have been working with Aaron Artman explaining how this could possibly work, because we did it last year with the U-23s. But this could be a pro experience. The guys coming down will be on the big roster. … Probably over $1 million of salaried players coming down to play. And the long-term deal with this MLS-USL partnership is the Reserve League that they play right now would go away.

The ball is really in Tacoma’s court, if you will, to go to this thing. Show the support and it could turn into a possible partnership between the Sounders and the Rainiers to have an actual pro sport in Tacoma other than the Rainiers.

On if the addition of a USL Pro team in Tacoma would affect the U-23 or Sounders Women teams: This has no baring on either one.