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Sounders exploring possibility of playing MLS Next Pro games in Spokane

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Team will continue to play at least some of their games in Tacoma for 2022, but beyond that is an open question.

The clock seems to be ticking on the Tacoma Defiance calling the City of Destiny their permanent home. A few weeks after Seattle Sounders officials hinted at the possibility that the Defiance could play home games at several different locations, Sounder at Heart has confirmed that the team has explored the possibility of moving to Spokane.

It should be stressed that this is still in the exploratory stage and that at least some of the Defiance’s games will be played in Tacoma next year, but it’s at least within the realm of possibility that the Sounders would keep their MLS Next Pro team training locally but then go to Spokane to play home games as a longer-term solution.

At the very least, it appears as though the chance of them remaining in Tacoma as their full-time home is increasingly unlikely. With OL Reign announcing their plans to move back to Seattle and play games at Lumen Field on Wednesday, the prospects of a new soccer-specific stadium in Tacoma are very close to dead. Furthermore, it is understood that Major League Baseball is changing rules regarding how minor league teams share stadiums that could make it much more difficult for the Defiance to play a full schedule at Cheney Stadium.

At the center of a potential move is Spokane’s plans to build a soccer stadium. Although the Spokane Facilities District recently voted to pursue negotiations to make a USL League One team the primary tenant — a plan that would also include a W-League team — there is not yet a local ownership group involved. The 5,000-seat stadium which recently broke ground would also be used by Spokane Public Schools for football, soccer and special events.

Brett Sports — which already operates Spokane-based minor league baseball and hockey teams — has a competing proposal to operate an MLS Next Pro team. Sounder at Heart confirmed that they are hoping to partner with the Sounders, but will now need to see how negotiations play out with the USL.

Even if negotiations with the USL were to fall apart and Brett Sports were to step in, playing games in Spokane would still pose some significant challenges. The most obvious of those would be figuring out how to effectively train in the Seattle area and play games nearly 300 miles away. That’s either a bus ride of at least four hours or a one-hour flight plus time getting in and out of the airport. In other words, that’s a lot of travel for a “home” game.

That said, it’s not entirely without precedent and is essentially what LAFC did with the Las Vegas Lights this year. Notably, the Lights finished at the bottom of the Pacific Division standings and went just 3-11-2 at home.

The Sounders would likely prefer to find a stadium solution closer to home, and those efforts are also ongoing. At the Alliance Business Meeting, Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer identified a possibly renovated Memorial Stadium as one potential home and there are other communities around Seattle that would likely make sense.

None of this bodes well for the future of professional soccer in Tacoma, which at one point had the potential to explode and now appears unlikely to have a single permanent team by next year.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was not at all hard to imagine Tacoma being home to a USL Championship team and the OL Reign, while also hosting the Sounders’ U.S. Open Cup matches. But the pandemic suddenly made funding harder to come by, casting the Heidelberg Sports Village into serious doubt. Defiance’s move from USL to MLS Next Pro was another blow, and the feasibility that laid bare the costs of building a 10,000-seat stadium for the Reign essentially sealed the project’s fate. News about MLB’s stadium-sharing rules simply hastened the exit.

With the start of the 2022 season just months away, the Defiance will still play some of their schedule at Cheney Field, but unless the stadium project suddenly gets back on track that is a short-term solution.