RENTON, Wash. – Since joining MLS as an expansion side in 2009, Seattle Sounders FC have been among the league's most ambitious clubs, a pursuit their trophy case and attendance numbers certainly back up.
However, if there was an area where the club wasn't considered to be at the forefront, it was their practice facility of Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Washington. The facility has served the Sounders plenty well as their training ground and the site of some memorable U.S. Open Cup matches. But in recent years, there's been a growing sense that an upgrade was necessary to match the scale of the club's stated goals.
On Wednesday, Seattle officially announced their plan to make that upgrade, inviting media to the historic Longacres in Renton, Washington, which the Sounders will begin turning into a state-of-the-art training facility and headquarters set to open in 2024. The massive, 300,000 square-foot property will officially be known as Sounders FC Center at Longacres, housing four full-size training pitches (two grass, two turf) and spaces for soccer operations and front office personnel alike.
"As we are a club celebrating our 50th anniversary, we absolutely want to lean into making sure that we help create a jewel for the city of Renton, the county and this community," majority owner Adrian Hanauer said at Wednesday's press conference. "This is an important, important piece of the fabric of the community here, aspirational for kids, and we leave this place better than when we found it. And I couldn't be more excited to be leaning into that in this period of time: The next five, 15, 20 years in our sport in our community. 2026 is a World Cup year in North America. We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to host that event in part in our community. That will be a massive piece of news and catalyst for growth.
"Our league is growing infrastructure and development of young players, fans, so we are absolutely ecstatic to have this new home. We can't wait to get busy digging and building."
Upon walking into the Longacres building, which previously served as Boeing's corporate headquarters, the sheer size and scale are simply at a different level than Starfire, giving it the capacity to act as a hub for day-to-day operations.
The ultimate vision for Longacres is exactly that, according to general manager Garth Lagerwey, who said early potential ideas for the project include a state-of-the-art medical facility, chefs that will focus on preparing meals specialized to players' individual nutritional needs, sports psychologists and possibly an entire analytics lab.
"We are still laying out the floor plan. We don't know exactly what all these details look like, but it'll be amazing in terms of it'll impact every aspect of our players' lives," Lagerwey said. "From where they approach the field to be able to walk from an interior facility that has been tailored just for them directly out onto the field. That is the vision for the team, is to have this first-level space that is dedicated to the first team. We'll have spaces separately for the academy and [Tacoma] Defiance, but it's going to be centered around the first team and their access directly in and out.
"I think it's a next-level step forward for us in terms of how we prepare our guys, how we make them more resilient, how we make them better soccer players on a higher level, on a consistent level over time."
Once it's launched, Lagerwey said he's confident the facility will also act as a boon for player recruitment at all levels, from the club's youth development program up to the first team.
The sales pitch was already a strong one, with Seattle winning two MLS Cups (2016, '19) and routinely competing for continental silverware, and Lumen Field becoming one of the league's highest-attended home venues. But Lagerwey said the upgraded facility instantly becomes another ace in the pocket when it comes to recruiting established players considering joining the first team or players for the youth development system.
"This is so much bigger than just this current Sounders team," Lagerwey said. "We couldn't be more proud, we couldn't be happier. We just are so excited to have what's going to be a generational home for the Sounders. This is going to allow us – we've talked for the last couple years about developing players. Those kids are developed in this community, so to be able to bring them to a palace like this: To say that this will help our recruiting is one of the bigger understatements I could give you.
"And not just with those young kids from all over the community, all over Washington, all over the Northwest, but players from all over the world."
The launch of Longacres is the latest example of MLS clubs opening similarly glitzy, high-priced facilities, with Austin FC, Inter Miami CF, the New England Revolution and more all breaking ground on their own in recent years.
As much as clubs are investing in players, ownership groups are instilling improved infrastructure as well. Sounders FC Center at Longacres will be but the latest in a clear must-have for clubs as MLS' 27th season soon gets underway.
"For sure this will be a gold standard, but this league has really evolved since we entered in 2009," Hanauer said. "I wouldn't exactly characterize it as an arm's race, but there is a lot of investment going into infrastructure. And we want to lead wherever possible, but there are many facilities around our league that are fantastic, beautiful facilities.
"We get to learn from some of the things they've done well, some of the mistakes they've made. We will certainly try to put our own unique stamp on it and we certainly want it to be the leading facility. But I would certainly be lying if I said that there aren't other clubs in our league that are investing in infrastructure and trying to do the same thing we're doing here today."