Pro soccer has its day again in Tacoma

Turnout for MLS Reserve League match at Cheney Stadium encouraging — even if Sounders’ play is not up to snuff

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comMay 13, 2013 

The Seattle Sounders FC reserves fell flat Sunday, but Tacoma’s hopes for a return of professional soccer might have gained ground.

The Sounders lost to Orlando City SC, 2-0, in a Major League Soccer Reserve League match at Cheney Stadium. The announced crowd of 2,174 didn’t dampen the interest of Sounders and Tacoma Rainiers management in the possibility of bringing a USL Pro team to the city.

“I think it’s one of those things where, until you get out here, no one knows what it will really be like,” Rainiers president Aaron Artman said at halftime. “And it seems like the people who are out here are having fun. We hope they are.”

The Rainiers and Sounders brought the game to Cheney Stadium partly to test the venue and the market as a home for a third-division soccer team affiliated with the MLS club.

“I think we believed before the game — and I think we still believe — that Cheney Stadium probably is not the right long-term solution,” Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “But certainly there was enthusiasm from the fans. We thought it was a good showing, especially given that it was Mother’s Day.

“We’ll do a little more in-depth analysis of who actually came to the game, but it was certainly encouraging for the idea of having a team in the Tacoma market.”

Artman acknowledged his grounds crew isn’t “in love with the concept” of sharing Cheney with a soccer team. Sounders players and coaches said the field was a bit narrow and that the temporary grass covering the infield dirt didn’t seamlessly merge with the baseball surface.

If Cheney Stadium is ruled out, a soccer-specific stadium would need to be created. No one can yet say if that makes financial sense.

“We need to know the player-development side, the technical side, that kind of thing,” Artman said. “I think the key would be, could you build a facility that sat three or four thousand people so it was always rocking in there when it did happen? … I don’t know.

“I’d like to think it could pencil out in that scenario, but we haven’t even run it yet, and I think we’ll use data from this to figure it out.”

From a pure soccer standpoint, there seemed to be far more certainty: The Sounders played poorly.

Orlando City controlled from the start, even though Seattle was stocked with regular first-team players such as forward David Estrada, midfielders Steve Zakuani and Shalrie Joseph, and defenders Patrick Ianni and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado.

The Lions opened the scoring in the fourth minute and concluded it in the 53rd minute, with both goals coming from USL Pro goals leader Dom Dwyer, on loan from Sporting Kansas City of MLS.

“Today we didn’t match up against a team from a lower division,” Joseph said. “These players are hungry — they got something to prove — and today we came out a little bit flat. In the first minutes, we gave up a goal, which put us on our back heels.”

Joseph and Ianni went all 90 minutes in a key test of their recovery from injuries. However, Zakuani went 55 minutes, and reserves coach Ezra Hendrickson acknowledged “he’s a little further behind.”

The Sounders’ first team returns to MLS play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday when FC Dallas visits CenturyLink Field.

Artman said if Tacoma doesn’t get a team of its own, he hopes a Sounders visit to Tacoma will become an annual tradition.

“If you have a whole offseason to market it, you pick a great date where there isn’t a conflict, I think it would be worth it as a one-off deal every year,” he said. “I think it would be really cool. I think a lot of that decision-making is up to them.

“We’re not setting the world on fire here, but we’ve got a pretty decent crowd, and people seem to be having fun.”

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

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