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Beginner’s guide to attending matches at Starfire Sports Complex

It’s been nearly five years since the Sounders played a match in Tukwila, a lot has changed since then.

Gallery Photo: US Open Cup: Sounders v San Jose Earthquakes: Photos

Once upon a time, attending Seattle Sounders matches at Starfire Sports Complex was a sort of rite of passage. From 2009-2017, the Sounders played 19 games at the Tukwila facility and went 17-1-1. With just about 4,000 seats — all of them practically on top of the pitch — it offers the sort of intimacy that is virtually unmatched in top-flight American soccer.

But it’s now been nearly five years since the Sounders last played a first-team match there, robbing many fans of this unique experience.

With the Sounders set to return there on Wednesday for a sold-out match against the San Jose Earthquakes, now is a good time to share a guide to attending matches there.

Get there early

The first thing to know is that parking can be a challenge. Simply put, there are not nearly enough spots to accommodate everyone. If you have no choice but to drive, get there early enough to snag one of those spots or at least give yourself enough time to park somewhere else on Interurban Ave S and walk.

If you don’t drive

  • Non-motorized: The good news is that some of the walking infrastructure around Starfire has improved over the last five years. There are now some decent sidewalks along Interurban Ave and the Green River Trail is mostly open, which means you could theoretically walk or ride your bike from South Seattle or Kent.
  • Train: While there is a train stop within walking distance, neither the Sounder nor Amtrak is designed to serve evening events. That said, if you were really committed to taking the train, there is one that leaves King Street Station at 6:10 PM and drops you off at 6:22 PM with a return option that leaves at 10:25 PM, gets you back to Seattle by 10:50 PM and costs about $20 round trip. Not the worst option and the station is about a 20-minute walk. The Sounder also has southbound trains running every 20-45 minutes from 2:30 PM-6:30 PM and will save you about $7, but no return service.
  • Light rail: Link light rail runs a lot more frequently, but the nearest station is Tukwila International Boulevard Station, which is not within walking distance. You could, however, catch the light rail, then transfer to the RapidRide F line, ride that for about 20 minutes, and then walk about 15 minutes from the nearest stop on Southcenter Boulevard.
  • Bus: This is probably your best option if you want to take public transit, as the 150 bus takes you within a five-minute walk of the stadium. This same line takes you north from the Kent transit center or south from Downtown Seattle to the Tukwila Park and Ride on Interurban Avenue. It’s about a 25-minute ride from either direction and the bus runs every 20-30 minutes until midnight.

Food options

  • Maybe the single biggest improvement at Starfire since 2017 is in the main dining option. Gone is Mad Pizza and in its place is Watershed FC. It’s still mostly pizza and salad, but of a bit higher quality. Like the situation with parking, though, space is still pretty limited so I’d get there early if you want a seat.
  • There’s also Cafe Sienna, which has coffee and other grab-and-go types of items.
  • Outside the stadium, there aren’t too many options within walking distance. Probably the best option is a Mexican place called Birrieria Grumpys that specializes in shredded beef dishes. The quesa-birrias are my favorites but the ramen is pretty great, too.
  • The only other options within walking distance are a Taco Del Mar and a Subway, but there’s a ton of stuff in and around Southcenter Mall as well as fast-food options farther down West Valley Highway.

Check out the beer garden

If there’s a signature element to games at Starfire, it’s probably the beer garden that is right behind one of the corner flags. It’s almost always crowded and your view will definitely be obstructed, but it’s still worth checking out, even if just for a few minutes.

Be prepared to stand

There are no official rules about standing vs. sitting at Starfire — and I’m not making any judgments about how it “should” be — but in my experience, it ends up being pretty standing-heavy. That’s due in part to the reality that you need to stand to see the entire field from a lot of seats. If you know you have to sit, see about getting as close to the action as possible. The same goes for being in your assigned seats. The reality is that it’s almost all bench seating and there are virtually no ushers. We can talk all day about whether or not you “should” be able to show up whenever you want and know your seats are waiting for you, but the reality is that they probably won’t be unless you get there before kickoff.

Stay late

Leaving Starfire can be a bit of a pain, but there’s a decent reason to stick around. One of the special joys about watching games there is how the players need to pass through a walkway on the way to the locker room. That walkway is totally accessible to fans and traditionally players stop to chat and sign autographs.