For the first time in 4 decades, there could be a professional outdoor soccer team in Tacoma, with the announcement that the Sounders are partnering with the Rainiers in exploring the possibility of moving S2 to the City of Destiny.
Washington Youth Soccer
In December of 1966, the organization that we now know as Washington Youth Soccer was founded in Tacoma as the Washington State Junior Soccer Association. Shortly afterward, local club Tacoma Wanderers visited England to play against and train with several English teams. Today, Washington Youth Soccer consists of 180 clubs and 105,000 members.
Tacoma Tides (1976)
The first time Tacoma fielded a competitive soccer team in a national league was in 1976, the only season in which the Tacoma Tides played. The Tides played in the American Soccer League (ASL). Similar to how S2's move to Tacoma might work, the Tides were partially owned by the minor league baseball team in Tacoma. The Rainiers organization was known as the Twins at the time and shared Cheney Stadium with the Tides. The other owner of the Tides was future governor and subject of an Academy Award nominated documentary, Booth Gardner. The team competed in the American Soccer League, finishing second place in the West Division, beating the Utah Golden Spikers in the quarterfinals of the playoffs before losing in the semifinals to eventual champion Los Angeles Skyhawks. The team folded after losing $100,000 in one season, failing to secure its own facility, and citing Cheney Stadium's inadequacy as a soccer venue.
More than how well the team did on the pitch, the Tides are more well known for their backup goalkeeper, a professional lacrosse player who joined the team after the National Lacrosse League folded earlier in the year. Bruce Arena joined the Tides after head coach Dan Wood (who coached Arena at Cornell) convinced him to join him in Tacoma. Because of that connection, Tacoma is the place where Arena's coaching career began. His first coaching job was at Tacoma's University of the Puget Sound, which competed in NCAA Division 2 at the time. Dan Wood went on to coach the Atlanta Chiefs in the NASL. Arena returned to Cornell for a year before moving on to the University of Virginia and eventually MLS and the USMNT.
Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter was born in Tacoma and lived there until he was 5 years old. Like Arena, he went on to win trophies in the NCAA and in MLS.
Tacoma Stars (1983 - 1992)
The Tacoma Stars are easily the most prominent part of Tacoma's soccer identity. The Major Indoor Soccer League began play when the Tacoma Dome opened in 1983. The Stars were the Tacoma Dome's first tenants and remain the longest tenured tenants. Despite posting losing records in each of their first two seasons, they still managed to draw good crowds, averaging 5,322 in the 1983/84 season and 7,222 in 1984/85. Once the team started winning, its popularity exploded. In the team's best season in 1986/87, it averaged 10,384 and set a world record for attendance at an indoor soccer match (21,728) in the decisive 7th game of the MISL Championship series, which the Stars lost to the Dallas Sidekicks 4-3 in overtime. When the Stars folded in 1992, the rest of the league did the same a month later.
The team's most famous player was Preki, who would later play for the USMNT at the 1998 World Cup and coach MLS teams Chivas USA and Toronto FC. It also featured current Seattle Sounders assistant coach Brian Schmetzer and his brothers Andy and Walt. Fans in Tacoma still talk about stars like Steve Zungul, who scored 89 goals in his 2 seasons in Tacoma. Irish defender/midfield "Jumping" Joe Waters joined the Stars in their second season and spent the rest of his playing career in Tacoma and even coached a relaunched Stars team in the 2012/13 season. Former NASL Sounders coach Alan Hinton coached the Stars and would later lead the A-League Sounders to their first league title in 1995.
Tacoma Stars (2003 - Present)
This relaunched version of the Stars has actually been around for over a decade, but due to mostly being an amateur team with a limited following and bouncing around between different owners and facilities, they didn't really become all that notable until the past year or two, when the statewide Western Indoor Soccer League (WISL) was launched and the Stars were announced as one of the inaugural teams, with former Sounders Academy director Darren Sawatzky serving as head coach. The Stars played in the Tacoma Indoor Soccer Center, which has a limited capacity that encouraged a fun atmosphere (there is a bar on the upper level) but discouraged growth. While posting a perfect record en route to winning the 2014/15 WISL title, the Stars also took over the remainder of the Seattle Impact's schedule in the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) season.
After forming a partnership with the Tacoma Rainiers (the second time the organization partnered with a soccer team) to staff the business side of the club, Sawatzky built a strong roster consisting of indoor soccer veterans like goalkeeper Danny Waltman (who is the son of a former MISL Stars GM), Sounders Academy alumni (Duncan McCormick, Chase Hanson, Troy Peterson, and Jamael Cox), and players Sawatzky coached against in PDL with Sounders U23. The team's first full season in the MASL was a success, both on and off the pitch. The Stars finished third in the Pacific Division and qualified for the playoffs while averaging 2,462 in attendance, 10th best in a 20 team league. That success likely gave the Rainiers the confidence that they could make a partnership with the Sounders work, should S2 relocate to Tacoma.
Although the Stars currently play their home games at Kent's ShoWare Center (which has a 253 area code), their reserve side still plays their home games in the WISL at the Tacoma Indoor Soccer Center.
Tacoma FC/Tacoma Tide (2006 - 2011)
When the Spokane Shadow PDL side suspended operations following the 2005 season, a new club in Tacoma referred to as Tacoma FC took their place in the Northwest Division. In their first season in 2006, Tacoma FC finished 5th in the division. Prior to the 2007 season, the name was changed to Tacoma Tide, an homage to the 1976 ASL team. In 2007, the Tide finished 2nd in the division and made its first appearance in the PDL playoffs, advancing to the Western Conference semifinals before losing to Fresno Fuego in extra time. In 2008, the team won the division and advanced to the Western Conference finals, where it lost 4-1 to Vancouver Whitecaps Residency. That was the team's best season and didn't return to the playoffs until the club was sold and re-branded as Sounders U23.
Sounders U23 (2012 - Present)
After Lane Smith (who also owns the Tacoma Stars) and Cliff McElroy purchased the Tacoma Tide and reached an affiliation agreement with the Sounders, Sawatzky was named as the head coach. The first season under the Sounders brand was a highly successful one. The U23's won the Northwest Division and the Western Conference title before being eliminated by Forest City London in the PDL semifinal. The team failed to qualify for the playoffs in the following season but was able to advance to the second round of the 2013 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
The U23's returned to the playoffs last season, finishing third in the Northwest Division before winning the Western Conference title in the playoffs and losing in the semifinal to K-W United FC. The team will make its return to the US Open Cup on May 11th, when it hosts Outbreak FC at Bonney Lake High School. The winner will travel to Bremerton in the second round on May 18th to face the U23's PDL rival, the Kitsap Pumas.
Sounders U23 is one team that would probably benefit from the Rainiers building a soccer-specific stadium in Tacoma. The team currently plays most of its home games in Sumner due to difficulty associated with scheduling games at Tacoma School District facilities.