In a move to expand the profile of their United Soccer League squad, the Sounders plan to move the Sounders 2 affiliate to Tacoma to play at a new 5,000-seat soccer specific stadium adjacent the Tacoma Rainiers Class AAA baseball team’s home venue. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was reached between the Sounders and the Rainiers to build the new venue on land near Cheney Stadium a few miles from downtown Tacoma.
After that, the USL franchise would be co-owned by the Sounders and Rainiers, have its business operations managed by the AAA team and be rebranded under a more Tacoma-specific name. The move was hailed by the Sounders as the first of its kind between an MLS squad and a team from another sport in the same regional marketplace.
“We are absolutely thrilled to be moving forward with the Tacoma Rainiers and City of Tacoma, progressing toward construction of a soccer-specific stadium,” Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer said in a release. “Our vision of having players begin their time with the club playing at Starfire with the Academy, then move up to the USL team with matches in Tacoma, before finally getting the call-up to the First Team at CenturyLink Field – all while playing within the Puget Sound region – really reinforces our commitment to bringing quality soccer to the communities of Western Washington.”
No word yet on the stadium’s cost, any public money attached or when its completion date will be,
“This is the art of the possible,” Rainiers president Aaron Artman said in a release. “What can we create, with our community and our partners, that adds to Tacoma’s current trajectory? Now that both parties have agreed to a structure to move forward — as one entity, representing USL soccer in Tacoma — it gives us the ability to work together to try to deliver a first-class stadium experience.”
Talks aimed at S2 moving its games from Tukwila to Tacoma began more than a year ago, spurred by concerns the affiliate was being overshadowed by its MLS parent club in the immediate Seattle area. Attendance for S2 home games at the Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila had been strong in its initial 2015 season.
But that came after what sources have described as a major financial push by the MLS club. The Sounders want their affiliate to stand more on its own and feel the move to Tacoma can accomplish that while still keeping the club in close proximity to Seattle so players can be moved up and down between the squads.
S2 will also continue to train at Starfire alongside the parent club.
“Partnering with the Rainiers to provide a first-class matchday atmosphere for our USL team is going to be very beneficial in developing our players,” said Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said in a release. “For the Rainiers to be able to utilize their business expertise in the Tacoma region and for us to retain technical control of the soccer side is an ideal fit for what we want to do with our USL team.”