WELCOME TO TACOMA “S2” Sounders FC to move USL Reserve team to Tacoma this spring

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A Tacoma soccer celebration with Tacoma Rainiers’ president Aaron Artman, Sounders FC general manager and president Garth Lagerwey, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, Tacoma City Council Member Ryan Mello, Former U.S. Congressman Norm Dicks and Sounders Trust president Kyle Boyd. Photo by Justin Gimse

Positive things tend to happen when one’s feet keep moving forward. When it comes to Tacoma, the moving seems to be going on throughout much of the city, as new residential and commercial developments take shape in and around areas such as the University of Washington-Tacoma, Ruston, and the Stadium District. Why, there’s even a multi-million dollar renovation in the works at the Tacoma Dome (goodbye bleachers).

With all this moving and shaking going on, it was going to take something special to really step out in front of all this progress and shout “Oh yeah? Well take a look at this!”

Leave it to the creative minds at the Tacoma Rainiers to step up to the plate on this one.

Last spring, the Rainiers announced a joint partnership with the Seattle Sounders FC to relocate the soccer team’s reserve club (Sounders 2 or S2) to the City of Destiny. Preliminary plans were put into play to move the team within a few seasons, while plans and construction on a new, soccer-specific stadium were put into play.

Following another exceptional summer at Cheney Stadium, and riding high off of the success of the 2017 Triple-A All-Star Game, the brass from both clubs decided to double-down on the positive atmosphere around Tacoma, and move their collective timetable forward. Instead of sitting around and checking off dates on the calendar, the Rainiers and the Sounders have decided to go “all-in” on this venture.

When the 2018 United Soccer League (USL) season begins in March, the Sounders reserve squad will begin their 17-game regular season slate at none other than Cheney Stadium. Meanwhile, the Rainiers and the City of Tacoma plan on moving forward with the plans for a 5,000-plus capacity soccer stadium that will reside within the Cheney Stadium complex’s footprint.

On Wednesday, Nov. 1, the two clubs held a press conference at Doyle’s Pubic House in the Stadium District. It’s safe to say that there hasn’t been this sort of get together in the South Sound for quite some time, if ever. Calling this event a press conference only paints part of the picture. It was more of a celebration than anything.

Top brass from the two organizations were joined by leaders from the city of Tacoma, press from throughout the Puget Sound, a bevy of Sounders supporters, as well as a number of local sports fans who were interested in seeing what all the fuss was about.

Rainiers’ team President Aaron Artman, was joined on-stage by Sounders FC General Manager and President Garth Lagerwey, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, Tacoma City Councilmember Ryan Mello, former United States Representative Norm Dicks, as well as the Sounders Community Trust President Kyle Boyd.

Fresh off his recent award as the Pacific Coast League Executive of the Year, Artman was beaming throughout the evening and looked more like a kid in a candy store.

“We are so proud to bring another professional sports franchise to Tacoma,” Artman said.  “To partner with the top soccer organization in the country, the Sounders, adds a layer of passion and prestige to the project, fueled by a vibrant South Sound base of supporters. We are excited to deliver a fantastic USL experience with S2 at Cheney in 2018 and 2019, while keeping our focus on delivering a world class soccer specific stadium by 2020.”

Strickland was her usual charming self and seemed happy that this business was getting off the ground during the final weeks of her term as Tacoma’s head honcho.

“From kids to adults of all ages, Tacoma is a city that loves sports,” said Mayor Strickland. “Our baseball and soccer fans now have an opportunity to see professional soccer and baseball right here at home in facilities that the City of Tacoma and Metro Parks have developed with a true community partnership. Tacoma is the best kept secret on the West Coast and I am thrilled for the city we all love – Tacoma.”

It was an exciting night for the Sounders’ Lagerwey, who admitted that he hadn’t spent much time in Tacoma before, but is looking forward to that all changing soon. His outlook on growing soccer, as well as soccer talent, here in the South Sound should also have soccer moms throughout the area looking into getting their kids into some training.

“The trajectory of soccer in the Puget Sound region continues to exceed our expectations,” said Lagerwey. “Tacoma’s willingness as a city to embrace our USL club and the Rainiers’ nuanced experience within their marketplace have made this immediate transition to Cheney Stadium an exciting and obvious move. We continue to have incredible partners at the City of Tukwila, where all of our athletes train, and the synergy across the entire region continues to give our club a competitive advantage.

“Today’s news solidifies the club’s vision of having players begin their time with us at Starfire Sports within the Academy, then moving 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 greater Puget Sound soccer community.”

Details for the new stadium, such as a price tag, have not been forthcoming yet from the parties involved. While no exact spot has been announced for the stadium on the Cheney footprint, there have been renderings of a new stadium sitting just west of the South 19th Street parking lot, where there is currently a tree line. However, there is nothing that says these are official works done by the organization, or they may just be mock-ups put together by a talented fan.

Whatever the case may be, it does seem like the best spot on the premises.

It will be interesting to see how the baseball infield is transformed into a grass playing surface, as the soccer pitch’s end-lines will border the “R Yard” and the first base line. Some significant engineering will also be involved in regard to the pitcher’s mound. Several thousand pounds of clay make up the mound, and a special machine is being engineered to cut and remove the mound in four pieces, leaving it ready to be put back together when the Rainiers return from home from the road.

I’ll be honest, they should have a separate press conference to showcase this new device, because it sounds amazing.

The Tacoma community will be having a say in what the new name and branding of the team will be. While the two organizations have yet to finalize a plan for this, knowing the fan-friendly nature of each tells me that this new Tacoma team is going to truly represent the City of Destiny.

Another item yet to be addressed is the possibility of the Sounders FC, as well as S2, playing their U.S. Open Cup home matches at Cheney Stadium. The two teams have played these contests at Starfire in the past, but a move down south would make sense if everything is now in place at their new home. The Rainiers would have to somehow balance their 70-plus game schedule with these additional U.S. Open Cup dates, which could possibly be troublesome. It’s all speculation so far, as neither organization is ready to chime in on the subject.

With all the bad news that we endure on a regular basis these days, it was refreshing to see a stage and room filled with smiles and a positive outlook. It’s also a testament to the direction this city is heading.

Former Congressman Norm Dicks sat near the end of the stage’s table and looked like a proud grandfather or great uncle. While Dicks has been retired from Congress for many years, his love affair with Tacoma and its surroundings is as strong as ever.

“I want to urge Metro Parks and the City of Tacoma to fully embrace this extraordinary opportunity to have the nation’s premier soccer franchise, the Sounders S2 team, play at Cheney Stadium,” said Dicks. “Let’s put 253 soccer and baseball on the map by building a community 5,000-seat soccer stadium in partnership with our Tacoma Rainiers. You can count me as all in.”

Norm, you can count me as all in as well.

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