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Tacoma soccer stadium isn’t quite dead, Rainiers president insists

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While there still some long term hope about keeping Defiance in town, their short-term future is muddled.

Charis Wilson courtesy of Seattle Sounders and Tacoma Defiance

News of the Tacoma soccer stadium’s demise may have been a bit premature, at least according to Rainiers President Aaron Artman. While short-term plans are extremely muddled, Artman recently suggested to the Seattle Times that they are still hoping to get the stadium built.

“It’s back to dream-big mode,” Artman said.

If the Seattle Sounders and Rainiers manage to pull that off, it would be a remarkable end to a journey that has had many ups and downs.

When the Sounders first announced plans to move their minor-league affiliate to Tacoma in 2018, it was with the belief that a soccer-specific stadium would be ready in time for the 2020 season. Although that timeline proved overly ambitious long ago, at least the wheels appeared to be in motion. Along the way, the stadium even picked up a potential marquee tenant in the NWSL’s OL Reign.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought that all to a halt as the city, parks department, Tacoma Rainiers and Sounders all were stuck re-evaluating what they could afford. The stadium plan seemed to get some renewed life a few months ago, though, when the Reign announced that they’d be taking a larger role in helping develop it, but with the caveat that they needed it to seat at least 10,000 fans instead of the 5,000 or so that were in the original plans.

But those plans were effectively nixed when the price tag of that expansion became clear — prompting the Reign to move back to Seattle where they’re now looking at Lumen Field as their permanent home — leaving the Tacoma stadium in limbo again.

When news came out last week that the Sounders were actively exploring other locations for their developmental team — which will now play in MLS Next Pro — that seemed to be a death-knell for the Tacoma soccer stadium.

Maybe not.

Having the Reign as a co-permanent tenant would have obviously helped fill dates with solid crowds, but doubling the size of the stadium not only increased the price tag but also extended the timeline. Without the Reign and with the Defiance no longer needing to meet the Division 2 standards, the stadium could potentially be downsized to closer to 3,000 seats, about 60% of the originally proposed size.

In the short term, however, there are some real challenges. Artman confirmed that Major League Baseball changed its agreement with minor league-affiliates in a way that limits how often Cheney Stadium can be converted to a soccer pitch. As a result, the Defiance won’t be able to play there as often and likely will need to take a long road trip for the 2022 season that is supposed to start in March.

“We probably won’t be playing soccer at Cheney Stadium — if and when we play it — until early June, late May time frame,” Artman said. “We’re going to have to get very creative on how we handle the short-term. … But none of this really changes our long-term vision and partnership with Sounders of what’s possible. It’s just when it happens is what we’re unsure of.”