John McGrath

This casual fan says you’ll get a kick out of indoor soccer’s Stars

Upon moving to the Pacific Northwest in 1991, one of the first things I found out was that Tacoma once had a hot fling with indoor soccer.

“More than 21,000 fans jammed the Tacoma Dome for a 1987 playoff game,” a friend informed me. “Do you know that set the world record for indoor-soccer attendance?”

I didn’t, but I liked the idea of relocating to a city that held a world record, even if it was for a sport I didn’t recognize.

“Soccer is played indoors?” I asked. “What will they think of next? Outdoor hockey played in baseball parks and football stadiums?”

I went to an indoor soccer game for the first time last spring, and enjoyed the experience to the point I was surprised. I went to my second indoor soccer game Friday night, and my regard for the sport was reinforced.

Indoor soccer is like real soccer except it’s faster, and there are fewer tedious delays involving players who’ve fallen and can’t get up. Indoor soccer also resembles hockey without the mayhem provided by enforcer goons punching each other bloody, which makes it more fit as family entertainment.

The fun-for-the-whole-family component is an essential sales pitch of the revived Tacoma Stars, who began their first full season in the Major Arena Soccer League with a 5-1 victory Friday at the ShoWare Center in Kent.

Thanks to some last-minute walk-ups, a crowd of 3,710 turned out — encouraging for a team competing in a league that averaged 2,432 fans per game last season, and yet an indication the challenge has only just begun for the Stars marketing department.

“We can fit a lot more people in there,” John Crouch, the team’s vice president of business development, said Sunday of the ShoWare Center, which seats 6,500. “When the Stars played in the Tacoma Dome back in the day, they averaged about 4,000. We definitely think that’s a reasonable number.

“But we’re very excited. The goal is to put a good product out there in a great environment, and Friday was a fantastic first step.”

The most tangible takeaway from the season opener was the Stars’ determination to present indoor soccer to a new generation. The national anthem was performed not by an adult singer but by a 50-piece high-school orchestra, replete with stringed instruments.

Immediately after the game, autograph tables were set up, and the players got to the tables right away, interacting with kids for half an hour.

“A big part of the building process is finding younger fans,” said Crouch. “There are youth clubs all over the region, and it’s our job to reach out to them.”

As for their parents and grandparents who supported the original Tacoma Stars, a brief primer on the MASL might be necessary. Indoor soccer’s most advanced pro league includes franchises representing familiar markets (Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, St. Louis, Kansas City, Baltimore, San Diego and Milwaukee), a few not-so-big markets that harken back to the NBA’s years as a fledgling operation (Syracuse, Harrisburg), and some markets that can only be described as obscure.

The Stars, for instance, are preparing for a road game this coming Friday against the Turlock Express, which is not an Agatha Christie mystery but, rather, a team that makes its home in central California. (“Turlock,” Wikipedia notes, “is the second-largest city in Stanislaus County, after Modesto.”)

Tacoma eventually will travel to Ontario — that would be the Ontario in Southern California — and to the northwest Mexican state of Sonora for a match against Soles de Sonora, which translates into Sonora Suns.

Put it this way: A 20-team professional sports league that groups the Chicago Mustangs and Cedar Rapids Rampage in the same division is a professional sports league enduring some growing pains.

Yet indoor soccer is back in Tacoma, sort of, and my recommendation to fans who won’t mind making a round-trip commute to Kent for the nine remaining home games is to check it out.

And while I know next to nothing about the sport, I’ll make a prediction: The Tacoma Stars will lead the MASL in merchandise sales.

“It’s a killer brand,” said Crouch, and he’s right. In a league of franchises brandishing logos for the Ambush, Surge, Fury, Blast, Heat and Wave, there’s something very cool about Tacoma’s orange-and-blue retro label with the iconic gold star.

The artist appointed to design a logo for the Cedar Rapids Rampage had no shot at surpassing that.