Seattle Sounders FC 2 (S2) is moving to Tacoma for the 2018 season, Sounder at Heart has learned from multiple sources familiar with the team’s plans. The USL team will play in Cheney Stadium with the Tacoma Rainiers taking over the business operations while the Sounders run the technical side of things. S2 and the Academy will continue to train at Starfire Sports Complex. This hybrid relationship is what USL teams Rio Grande Valley FC and Reno 1868 operated under in 2017. It also brings S2 up to D2 standards while a more permanent stadium situation is finalized.
Asked for comment on the move, the Sounders shared this statement:
“Sounders FC is aware of the media reports regarding S2 and a proposed accelerated timeline surrounding the club’s previously announced move to Tacoma. We remain focused on S2’s long-term transition to Tacoma and are working alongside the Rainiers organization to provide a first-class experience for our players and soccer fans across the region. At this time, Sounders FC can confirm that exploratory conversations with the Rainiers are underway regarding the club’s USL side playing in Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium as soon as 2018. Both Sounders FC and the Tacoma Rainiers expect to have more information on this subject in the coming weeks, and will publicly announce those details in the near future.”
The move to Tacoma is not itself surprising, but the timing was much faster than originally expected. In May, Sounders FC and the Rainiers declared that the future of S2 would be in Tacoma. It is believed that the timeline accelerated since the announcement due to USL seeking D2 status from the U.S. Soccer Federation for the 2018 season. That included eliminating league-level waivers as well as almost all team-specific waivers.
Sounders Reserves, prior to their entry into USL as S2, played a single game at Cheney Stadium in 2013, in a match that drew just over 2,000 people. That roster featured Steve Zakuani, Shalrie Joseph, and Jordan Morris then an Academy player. Orlando City, USL team at the time, featured Kevin Molino and Dom Dwyer.
S2 launched at Starfire Stadium with a boom in 2015, but interest rapidly diminished. In 2017, attendance dropped to barely over 1,000 people on average or less than half of what they drew in 2015. The D2 standards require a stadium capable of seating 5,000; Starfire seats about 3,500. Cheney Stadium meets that requirement, but may struggle to fit a 70-by-110-yard soccer field — the D2 minimum.
The Rainiers are still seeking a soccer-specific stadium “on the footprint of historic Cheney Stadium” that will solve that problem as well as a host of other potential issues. Progress on the stadium front continues with the plans to be ready by 2020. Louisville FC is in a similar situation, though they are not a hybrid team. Louisville is currently playing in a Triple-A baseball stadium, but have a soccer-specific stadium in the works. There are likely to be at least seven USL teams who play their home games in minor-league baseball stadiums next year.
Possibly as a result of USL’s deepened focus on Division 2 certification, there’s been increasing pressure on MLS-affiliated teams to improve their situations. Whitecaps 2 is already done, with Vancouver affiliating with Fresno FC, a new USL expansion team. The Montreal Impact also shuttered their team ahead of this season, affiliating with the Ottawa Fury. Others are moving into their MLS stadiums (T2 did that for 2017) or into expanded training facilities (Real Monarchs open their new stadium in 2018).
Sounders FC originally explored multiple locations for their USL team. Past sites considered included Boise, Phoenix, as well as other towns around Washington, but= Tacoma always seemed to be their preference.
How do you feel about S2 moving to Tacoma?
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Awesome, what’s not to love
I feel betrayed, this is a failure
I’m here for the Sounders, not S2