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City of DeS2ny: S2 gets fresh start in Tacoma

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The sights of the night as S2 opens its tenure in Tacoma

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

Over this upcoming season, Sounder at Heart photographer Max Aquino will be writing a series of articles covering a variety of soccer photography topics. Today, he talks a bit about the atmosphere on opening night of Seattle Sounders 2 in Tacoma and introduces a new face to the fold.

Walking into a new stadium to shoot a game is always a rush. Each field has its own quirks and is a puzzle to figure out. There are new angles, lighting, crowd... not to mention numerous ways to get lost in tunnels on the way to the field (ask me about security in Estadio Azteca sometime).

When Cheney Stadium was announced as the temporary home of Sounders FC 2, I admit to being a bit skeptical. For many baseball stadiums, the only way to avoid the pitcher’s mound is to angle the field sideways, leading to terrible sight lines for the majority of the crowd and a feeling of being incredibly far away (see: Yankee Stadium). In addition, utilizing temporary grass has not been very successful at CenturyLink, causing players to slip constantly while tearing up the grass and riddling the pitch with divots.

The Tacoma Rainiers, however, did it right. They were very careful when designing the field angle to keep good sight lines for the majority of the seats and even found a way to remove the mound efficiently. Their marketing managed to capitalize on the hype and appeal to an populous, but under-served area.

Southbound and Down

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

Pierce County, and further South, is still a largely untapped market. While the Sounders still draw well, there are a significant number of fans who have problems getting up to Seattle, especially during rush hour on a weekday (for reference, it took me over two hours to get to Tacoma from Lynnwood). Combined with the Rainiers marketing team, several thousand fans per game could be a reality.

The “Tacoma Aroma” is actually green smoke

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

One thing the Emerald City Supporters have longed for is the opportunity to let off smoke during goal celebrations. The fire marshals have not been comfortable letting the smoke go in CenturyLink or Starfire, but they finally have the opportunity at Cheney. While it’s not for everyone, it adds quite a bit to the atmosphere for photographers and videographers to capture.

Pro tip: If you don’t like smoke or giant flags, shy away from buying tickets in Sections 122-127, N, or O.

If you build it...

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

While it’s not building a baseball field out of a cornfield in Iowa, the crowd still came. With over 6,000 tickets distributed, it was the largest ever crowd to attend an S2 game. There were many different areas that people could sit - whether you want to sit with your family in traditional seats, party with the Emerald City Supporters in the Tall Boy Terrace (took me until the 70th minute to get that joke), stand and have a beer above the North goal in the Coors Light Landing, grab a table on the party deck, or experience a more picnic feel on the grass berm down the traditionally right field line, there’s a spot for everyone and not really any bad seats in the house. The sight lines are unusual for what would be expected from a soccer stadium, but it also gave for some practically field-level seating and came out better than expected.

About that field

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

Prior to the night, the biggest question was, “How will the field hold up?” As has been seen at CenturyLink field, temporary grass often leads to problems and often cannot be reliably counted on. In addition, the ultra-narrow pitch at Yankee Stadium set an uncomfortable precedent for baseball stadiums, as well as the unusual sight lines.

The temporary grass held up surprisingly well
Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

The simple answer is, “quite well, so far.” There was very little slipping or instances of the temporary grass catching on the athletes’ cleats. While transitioning from the infield to the outfield areas caused a different feel (mostly from different levels of infill traditionally used in these areas) and there were slight elevation changes between the permanent grass and temporary grass, the ball mostly rolled true. In addition, it seems that they have found a novel way to make their mound (the biggest obstacle for sharing stadiums) portable.

It was a very nice job by the grounds crew. It will undoubtedly be more difficult making the transition numerous times and on short turnaround, but they’re passing with flying colors so far.

Welcoming a new addition

New Sounder at Heart photographer Kayla Mehring
Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

You will be seeing a new face patrolling the sidelines in Tacoma. We are pleased to welcome Kayla Mehring aboard as a Sounder at Heart photographer for the S2 season, as well as the occasional first team game. She has served as a team photographer for both the Sounders U-23s and the Tacoma Stars and will be a strong addition to our photographer lineup.

You’ll be seeing quite a bit from her perspecitve this season
Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

See her game gallery below:

My favorites from the game

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

There’s something about goalkeepers making a save, isn’t there? Calle Brown makes a leaping save to keep S2 ahead late in the game.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

Catching celebrations makes for an iconic photo... if you’re lucky enough to have the players run in your direction. After Nick Hinds scores, the players run right at me, giving me a chance to capture the emotion before they go into the traditional “hug in a corner” moment.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

While not a traditional action shot, having Kayla handle the majority of the action photo duties freed me up to observe and catch photos of the atmosphere. While it’s unlikely that S2 will see 6,000 per game, it’s fantastic to see more than just a small, dedicated pocket of fans. The atmosphere was truly amazing and shows what S2 support can be.

The rest of my game photos are below.

S2’s next game is on the road. They face Swope Park Rangers March 24 at 5:30 p.m. You can follow on YouTube. They host the Fresno Foxes on March 28 at 7:00 p.m. in Cheney Stadium.