Seattle Sounders move up timeline of planned USL affiliate move to Tacoma

Nouhou Tolo in action for S2

TACOMA, Wash. – Seattle Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey says he asked himself a simple question when he was first presented with the opportunity to move his club’s USL affiliate Sounders 2 down Interstate 5 to Tacoma.

Why wait?

The idea of moving S2 to Tacoma has been kicked for a while now, but was originally slated to be on hold until 2020 while plans were made to build a soccer-specific stadium where the club would play. However, that timeline has now officially accelerated, as the Seattle Mariners’ AAA affiliate Tacoma Rainiers and the Sounders announced at a joint press conference on Wednesday that S2 will play in Tacoma starting in 2018.

The club will play at the Rainiers’ Cheney Stadium for at least next season while plans for a nearby 5,000-seat soccer-specific stadium are finalized.

“It was the opportunity,” Lagerwey explained at Wednesday’s press conference. “[Sounders general counsel] Maya Mendoza-Exstrom came to me and said, ‘Hey, we have this relationship with the Rainiers through [Sounders majority owner] Adrian Hanauer,’ and the first question I asked was, ‘Why wait until 2020? Why can’t we try and figure this out for 2018?’

“They came back and said this could really happen. The Rainiers were supportive and this doesn’t happen without the Rainiers and without their leadership.”

The first reason for the move, Lagerwey said, is that it represents a next step in expanding the Sounders’ brand, allowing them to tap into a different market and fan base from the one they’ve already established.

But the Sounders’ GM added that he also feels that the move will be a step forward from a player development perspective, affording S2’s young players a platform where the spotlight will be brighter and the pressure to perform will be enhanced.

“Step one is to create a playing atmosphere that is exciting and fun for our fans but also to put pressure on our players,” Lagerwey said. “One of the biggest things we have to evaluate for these kids that are 17, 18, 19-years-old is that, as teenagers, they have to adjust, they have to come in and grow up. And the way they do that is to be put under pressure and one of the ways to do that is to put them in front of large audiences.

“Not many teenagers get to play in a soccer-specific stadium built for them and their team and for their community.”

The club will play with the S2 moniker for next season but Rainiers’ president Aaron Artman confirmed on Wednesday that the ultimate plan is to rebrand the franchise to something more “Tacoma-centric.”

Artman said the club will start formulating ideas for the rebrand next season, with an eye on the 2019 season as the earliest timeframe for when it can be implemented.

“We wouldn’t be able to actually unveil it or have the gear until at the earliest 2019 and that could even be aggressive,” Artman said. “But we’re definitely keen on doing that. We know how important that is and feel that it’s what we should do and that it’s the right move.”