The number “2” is going to be over the hearts of many soccer fans in the South Sound this spring and summer. Tacoma will be home to a professional soccer team: the Seattle Sounders F.C. 2.
S2, as its fans call the team, is the reserve side for the Seattle Sounders F.C. It will play in the United Soccer League, or USL. The league is US soccer’s equivalent to AAA baseball. It will play its home games in a AAA baseball park, Cheney Stadium, the home of the Tacoma Rainiers.
The ownership group in charge of the Major League Soccer franchise partnered with the owners of the Rainiers to make the City of Destiny the soccer team’s new home. As part of this new partnership, the Rainiers will be in charge of business operations for the team, including marketing, game day operations and ticket sales.
“The leadership up in Seattle had long wanted to partner with the Tacoma Rainiers to help bring some soccer down to Tacoma,” says Brett Gleason, Media and Communications Manager with the Tacoma Rainiers and S2. “The timing of it just happened to work perfectly.”
When S2 was founded in 2016, it played all of its home games in Tukwila’s Starfire Sports Complex. But in Tukwila, S2 struggled to find fans. The reserve team was one of the least attended teams in USL for the 2017 season. It averaged just 1,097 fans per game, according to the league.
“In Tacoma, there’s only one option for professional sports and that’s the Rainiers,” Gleason explained as he compared the sports landscape of Tacoma to the sports-rich environment of Seattle. “It’s nice to be able to give sports fans another option to come out, have a few drinks and cheer on a team that’s going to be fully theirs.”
Ever since the move was announced in November, season tickets started selling at a brisk pace. Gleason says requests grew once the schedule was announced, something that’s music to the ears of all involved in the team.
“This is exactly the kind of experience our players need,” explains head coach John Hutchinson. “They need to be able to play in front of a big crowd, noisy crowds hopefully, crowds that get behind us. That’s what they need. They need to experience all of that before they take the next step.”
Hutchinson says his players understand the importance of developing talent that is not quite ready to play for the Sounders in CenturyLink Field.
“We make all of our players go to every game at CenturyLink to watch the first team play,” Hutchinson explains. “To experience that crowd of 40,000, to be part of that with the first team, as much as they possibly can. They need to know that they are putting on a proud jersey with a history. They are blessed to be here and wearing the Rave Green colors of Seattle.”
Currently, S2’s roster does not have many local players. Team officials hope this changes as S2 gains a larger presence and foothold in Tacoma and the rest of the South Sound.
“We’ve already had four S2 players and five academy players get called up to the first team for preseason,” Hutchinson says. “They’re getting great mentorship with the likes of Chad Marshall and Clint Dempsey.”
It’s not uncommon for American soccer teams to play on baseball fields. Major League Soccer’s New York City F.C. plays its home games in Yankee Stadium. This receives a lot of criticism from players and fans who complain about the cramped playing space. But both the Sounders and the Rainiers say the design for the playing pitch at Cheney will be perfect for soccer.
“The dimensions of Cheney Stadium will perfectly fit a soccer field,” Gleason says. “We’re going to have the best field conversion in North American professional sports.”
A highlight includes investing in a piece of equipment to remove the pitcher’s mound so the soccer match can be played closer to the fans, instead of in the outfield.
Cheney Stadium will not be the permanent home for S2, nor will S2 be the permanent name of the team. The Rainiers owners will build a new soccer specific stadium adjacent to Cheney. It’s scheduled to open for play in time for the 2020 season. Team officials are also hard at work at rebranding the team too.
“It’s important that the team has a Tacoma identity. This community has a very unique feel to it – the people who live in Tacoma are very proud to be from here. This team should connect with the city and the people of Tacoma in some way.”
Tacoma’s new soccer team will play its first game at Cheney Stadium on March 16 at 7:00 p.m. against Portland Timbers 2. Ticket information is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.