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Starfire stands to be major beneficiary of Sounders 2

Frank MacDonald is a Seattle soccer journalist and historian, this story first appeared on his website and has been republished here with his permission.

Starfire Stadium (lower right) will host Sounders 2 matches, with the new stadium support building constructed just to the west
Starfire Stadium (lower right) will host Sounders 2 matches, with the new stadium support building constructed just to the west
Courtesy Starfire Sports

There's the unprecedented, and then there's the not-so-sexy underpinning for building what dreams may come.

Certainly the sizzle for the Sounders 2 unveiling is the community ownership component in which 20 percent of the USL PRO franchise will belong to Rave fans from near and far. That's groundbreaking, but it's the literal groundbreaking behind the Starfire Stadium west goal that will truly unlock the potential of this already abundant soccer park, opening the door to new events and new fans.

Funds generated from the Sounders Community Trust Founders Club will be devoted to capital improvement projects at Starfire, namely the construction of a stadium support building (SSB) on the current site of the flag pavilion field.

"We're amazingly pleased to have S2 play here. But we also want to host more and more community, high school and college matches." - Starfire CEO Chris Slatt

The SSB is critical to the creation of a seamless Sounders player development program extending from the academy through S2 to the first team. Its contents remain unconfirmed, but at the top of list are locker rooms for S2 players, visiting teams and officials. Among other considerations are multi-functional spaces such as a gym, meeting rooms, plus space for sports medicine treatments, public restrooms, expanded concessions and a seating/standing area for supporters. Those amenities and more will be discussed in detail when representatives of Starfire, S2 and the Supporters Community Trust meet later this fall.

"There are ideas all the way from multiple levels in this building to rooftop decks," says Starfire CEO Chris Slatt. "But there are realities (as to cost) and that's what we will look at next."

One thing is certain, however: Starfire has not only gained a primary tenant in S2, but also the opportunity to host more and bigger community events.

"We're amazingly pleased to have S2 play here," Slatt says, "But we also want to host more and more community, high school and college matches."

To date, Starfire has served as venue for Open Cup matches, Sounders Women, Reign FC and tournaments for state youth and small college conference championships. Slatt said other bids fell short due to lacking facilities. During Open Cup matches, public restrooms and meeting rooms in the athletic center were converted to the visiting locker room. Officials dressed in offices.

"We've got a very cool soccer stadium to compliment the big house (CenturyLink Field) downtown," Slatt says, "but without locker rooms associated directly with the stadium, it's hampered us."

Upon completion of the SSB, Starfire can begin pursuing such events state high school championships, NCAA and NAIA finals and US youth international friendlies.

S2 general manager Andrew Opatkiewicz notes that the SSB is the largest piece of the capital improvement projects. Recently academy locker rooms were built in the athletic center. However there may be more.

"We don't need to limit it to a single project" as long as both the STC and additional funds go toward the improvement of Starfire and the greater Seattle soccer community.

Opatkiewicz says dirt is likely to be turned for the SSB in early 2015, and hopefully completion prior to the 2016 USL PRO season. Stadium capacity will remain at approximately 4,400 for matches with Portland, Vancouver and other top draws. A configuration of just under 4,000 is likely for other games.

This past season the league average attendance was just over 3,000. S2 will be among at least eight and as many as 12 new teams in 2015. Increasing Starfire capacity is definitely feasible in the future, according to Slatt.

Opatkiewicz says the objective for next season is to sell-out each game, re-create the intense atmosphere of Open Cup and make S2 accessible to everyone through affordable tickets and community outreach. It's also critical to maintain the intimacy where players and fans can mingle around matches.

Prices for season tickets and single matches have yet to be announced, but 750 tickets are already being sold for $95 and the entry point for the regular pricing should be significantly lower than Sounders FC's first team.

Opatkiewicz knows of no other MLS club so intertwined with their training base as Sounders FC. Slatt agrees, emphasizing that the club could've created a private facility, removed from potential distractions. Instead, owner and GM Adrian Hanauer chose Starfire and to put the team in the middle of the community.

Two full training fields, the team locker room and clubhouse were constructed for Sounders FC in 2009, along with offices for the team's staff. Temporary locker rooms for the academy were recently added.

The Sounders' turf training pitch (Field 11) is available for public use, as is the vast majority of Starfire facilities. "Having the pros there is important to the inspiration of kids," explains Slatt. "It's amazing to play in a facility that pros play at. But we would never do that at the expense of community access."

"Now we're basically turbo-charging that model," claims Slatt. "It's two-sided: The impact is clearly to bring in bigger events, but there's also the inspirational impact of having youth players and teams practicing or having access to the same facilities that the professional players use."

A non-profit corporation, Starfire's mission is to serve as a magnate for the community, offering top-class facilities and programs to people of all abilities, ethnicities and economic means. Already more than 700,000 visit the campus on an annual basis, with peak hours operating at 85-90 percent of capacity.

"We talk about building community through soccer," Slatt says. "The real inspiration for Starfire is to build community and be totally inclusive; everybody's welcome. We're getting everybody there. That's the first phase.

"The second phase is getting them to connect together," he adds. "It's a whole other level, to connect the fans and the community with the team. More and more people will get connected to the club with S2, and we're ecstatic about the level Starfire can further connect our community together."

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