First-teamers to get minutes in Tacoma

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comMay 12, 2013 

Steve Zakuani could appear today in Tacoma when the Sounders face Orlando City SC in a Major League Soccer Reserve League match at Cheney Stadium. Zakuani has been out because of injury.

PETER HALEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

More than $1 million of soccer payroll could be on display at 4 p.m. today when Seattle Sounders FC meets Orlando City SC in a Major League Soccer Reserve League match at Cheney Stadium.

The Sounders’ roster will be made up mostly of first-team players who didn’t participate in Saturday’s 4-0 MLS win over San Jose.

Seattle players who have drawn minutes over the first three Reserve League matches include Marcus Hahnemann, Lamar Neagle, Patrick Ianni, Leo Gonzalez, Mario Martinez, David Estrada, Servando Carrasco, Sammy Ochoa and first-round draft pick Eriq Zavaleta.

Players such as Shalrie Joseph and Steve Zakuani could work their way back from injury today.

“This could be a pro experience,” said Lane Smith, owner of the Sounders U-23 developmental team, which played a couple of games at Cheney last season. “The guys coming down will be on the big roster — probably over $1 million of salaried players.”

Smith was instrumental in getting this game to Tacoma. The match originally was scheduled for Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila – the Sounders’ usual Reserve League home. However, with Smith’s encouragement, the Sounders and owners of the Tacoma Rainiers baseball team switched the game to Cheney Stadium.

The plan not only is to increase the Sounders’ presence in the South Sound, but to test the city and stadium as a possible permanent home for a Sounders-affiliated team in the United Soccer Leagues’ pro division.

“There are more advantages to a local affiliate, as opposed to an affiliate in another state,” Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “We’ve had very good conversations with the people at the Rainiers. They obviously know what they’re doing in terms of sports marketing and delivering a good entertainment value at Cheney.”

The game today pairs teams featuring different models of MLS player development.

The Sounders represent the traditional approach of reserve games created to provide opportunities for players who aren’t regularly playing MLS minutes. Orlando City represents the future course: a baseball-like model with the MLS team providing players to an affiliated club in third-division USL Pro.

Orlando City is affiliated with MLS team Sporting Kansas City, which loaned it goalkeeper Jon Kempin, defender Yann Songo’o, midfielder Christian Duke and forward Dom Dwyer.

Dwyer leads USL Pro with eight goals in seven matches. He was named player of the week after recording a hat trick in a 7-2 win over Antigua Barracuda FC last weekend.

“Eventually (affiliation is) what (MLS) is looking toward,” Sounders Reserves coach Ezra Hendrickson said. “But right now, (we don’t have) anyone close as far as affiliating ourselves with. Kansas City has been able to get some of their guys down to Orlando. I know Dom Dwyer (is) getting to develop.”

Sounders FC is committed to a similar relationship with a USL Pro team. However, it wants to avoid the geographical separation of the Kansas City-Orlando arrangement.

With no USL Pro team in the Northwest, the idea arose to create one.

Today’s match will help determine whether that team eventually plays at Cheney Stadium, at some other stadium existing or created in Tacoma, or in another city in the region.

Tickets remain available.

In honor of Mother’s Day, moms will be admitted free when attending with their children.

“I think we’re all just open-minded and interested to see how it works,” Rainiers president Aaron Artman said. “I think it’s going to be fun.”

Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt

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