The Tacoma Stars announced their full return to professional status in style on Friday night at Kent's ShoWare Center.
For the first time since the MISL club folded in 1992, the Stars played in front of a home crowd of over 3,700 fans. The official attendance was 3,710. To put that in perspective, the old Stars averaged 4,821 in 1991/92, their final season in the Major Indoor Soccer League. At that point, the Stars were the main professional soccer team in the Puget Sound. FC Seattle Storm had folded and the A-League Sounders wouldn't debut until 2 years later. At the height of their success in the mid-1980s, the Stars averaged over 10,000 per game when they played at the Tacoma Dome.
The current vesion of the Stars is led by head coach and GM Darren Sawatzky, head coach/GM of Sounders U23 and former director of the Sounders Academy. His side faced the Sacramento Surge, led by former Tacoma Stars player and Starfire co-founder Mark Bickham.
Sacramento entered the match 0-2 after a pair of 6-5 losses to the Turlock Express and the Las Vegas Legends. This was Tacoma's first game of the season after the opening game at Dallas was re-scheduled.
Tacoma wasted no time getting on the board, as Dan Antoniuk made Sacramento's goalkeeper pay carrying the ball out of the penalty box. Antoniuk finished a scoring chance on the ensuing free kick, just 47 seconds into the game.
With about 5 minutes left, Jamar Beasley made it 2-0 with a calm finish on a breakaway opportunity, with Mark Lee providing the assist. A few minutes later, Duncan McCormick made a fantastic goal line save to keep it 2-0.
With just under 4 minutes remaining in the second quarter, Tacoma native Joey Gjertsen made it 3-0 on a 3 on 1 breakaway, with Mark Lee picking up his second assist of the night. Goalkeeper Danny Waltman had made a pair of impressive kick saves moments earlier to protect the lead.
Tacoma built on its lead in the third quarter with a pair of goals by Dan Antoniuk, with assists coming from Adam West and Jamal Beasley. Tacoma's team defense combined with a few more impressive saves by Waltman helped keep Sacramento scoreless after 3 quarters.
With just over 4 minutes less in the game, Sacramento's Solomi Olajcde spoiled the clean sheet for Tacoma's defense, but it was too late to bring the Surge back into the game.
The standout players were clearly goalkeeper Danny Waltman, who finished the game with 16 saves, and Dan Antoniuk, who completed his hat trick in the third quarter to put the game out of reach. Both were quick to deflect praise to their teammates after the game. Waltman pointed to several goal line clearances made by his teammates, while Antoniuk praised the service provided by players like Jamar Beasley and Adam West.
Tacoma moves to 1-0 on the season and is currently tied for first place in the Major Arena Soccer League's Pacific Division with longtime rivals San Diego Sockers.
Beyond the pitch, the entertainment during the breaks was a rousing success and helped create a buzz on social media. It will be interesting to see if they can improve on tonight's attendance when they host Soles de Sonora on November 20th.
In the meantime, the team will shift focus to its 3 game road trip to California next weekend, when they'll face the Turlock Express on Friday before playing 2 more games against Sacramento on Saturday and Sunday. All of those games will be streamed on Go Live.