By Grant Clark
More times than not you would find Lane Smith among the crowd.
“I’m a guy that remembers the magic of the Tacoma Stars in the 1980s,” said Smith, a 1980 graduate of Lincoln High School. “Today, everywhere I go in Tacoma wearing Tacoma Stars gear, people come up and ask, ‘That was so fun. When are we going to get the magic back again?’”
Smith now has an answer.
Under the ownership of Smith and partnered with the Tacoma Rainiers, the Tacoma Stars are returning to professional indoor soccer for the first time in 23 years.
The Stars will play a 20-game regular season schedule as a member of the Major Arena Soccer League with 10 home dates at the ShoWare Center in Kent, beginning on November 6 when the Stars host the visiting Sacramento Surge.
“We are looking forward to getting started this fall with the MASL season,” said Tacoma Stars head coach and general manger Darren Sawatzky. “We want to be the winter destination for soccer in the northwest and we look forward to competing out of the gate.”
The 2015-2016 regular season concludes with two home matches against the 14-time indoor soccer champion San Diego Sockers on February 20 and 26.
“There are established teams in the professional indoor game, and in order to compete with these teams we have to build a foundation with staying power on the playing side,” said Sawatzky, who played 10 years professional, including four years with the Seattle Sounders of the Major League Soccer. “In order to do that you need talent, but you also need time to craft your style and philosophy into something bigger than just a quality soccer team. You need to be an asset to your community. No one gets into professional sports to lose so we plan on winning trophies.”
The Stars will not only have local connections in its front office, but also on the field with several players hailing from the South Sound area.
The first official signing by the Stars was veteran goalkeeper and Gig Harbor-native Danny Waltman.
Waltman, whose father was a member of the group that owned the Stars during its initial run in the 1980s and early 1990s, was a standout at Bellarmine Prep before playing collegiately at the University of Washington.
He made his professional debut in 2004 with the Chicago Storm of the Major Indoor Soccer League. In addition to his three seasons in Chicago, Waltman also played with the Detroit Ignition (2006-09), Rockford Rampage (2009-10) and the Missouri Comets (2010-2015).
“I waited my whole career for the Stars to come back,” said the 34-year-old Waltman, who helped the Comets to an appearance in the 2014 MISL championship. “I’m so thankful that they’re coming back into the league, and more thankful that I get to be a part of it. I grew up going to Tacoma Stars games. I kind of feel like I grew up in the Tacoma Dome and that those games were the best nights of my life as a kid. This is a dream come true to play for the Stars.”
Tacoma’s roster will also feature midfielder and Wilson High School graduate Joey Gjertsen.
Gjertsen is the all-time career scoring leader at The Evergreen State College where he earned All-American honors in 2004. He began his professional career in 2005 with the Vancouver Whitecaps, earning rookie of the year and USL MVP in 2006.
“There was no way I would pass up an opportunity to play for my hometown team, especially a team that was a staple of my childhood,” said Gjertsen, who helped Vancouver to the USL First Division championship in 2006. “I believe in this team and am excited to be a part of bringing them back.”
Additional Tacoma Stars with local ties include Tacoma natives Jeff Bader (defender), Jamael Cox (midfielder), Raphael Cox (midfielder/forward) and Derek Johnson (striker).
The Tacoma Stars were a member of the MISL, playing between 1983 and 1992. The organizations best season came in 1987 when the Stars played for the MISL Championship, losing a dramatic seven-game series to the Dallas Sidekicks.
“I remember the heyday of the Stars. It had a big influence on me,” said Smith, who purchased the rights to the Tacoma Stars branding and logos in 2014. “This team was a big deal back in the day. There’s currently great buzz around soccer in the South Sound. Obviously, the Seattle Sounders have helped increase the interest in the sport in this area. We believe we have put together an exciting product that people here can get behind and support.”