We are just four days away from the Cascadia rivalry coming to town when the Sounders FC U23 take on the Portland Timbers U23 at Tumwater Stadium on Saturday night. All week Oly Sports will have previews and stories to help you get ready for the big game. Today, we look at what has changed since the PDL last came to town and the future of soccer in Olympia…
Two years ago the Tacoma Tide teamed up with Blackhills FC and moved their home game against the Abbotsford Mariners to Tumwater Stadium. Tide owner Mike Jennings took it as an opportunity to gauge the interest level of the Olympia area in soccer, to see if the United Soccer League’s Premier Development League, the fourth tier of American soccer and top amateur league, could be successful in Thurston County. Unfortunately, the game was poorly attended, as all Tacoma Tide games were. Neither the team nor Blackhills FC properly promoted the game and the Tide weren’t exactly a draw for the casual (or even hardcore) soccer fans in the area. Soccer at this level, it seemed, was dead for Olympia.
Two years later, Olympia gets a second chance when the Tacoma franchise returns to Tumwater Stadium albeit under very different circumstances. Most importantly this time, the Tide no longer exist. Following years of poor attendance and losing money, Jennings sold the team to two Pierce County businessmen, Lane Smith and Cliff McElroy. The new owners teamed up with the Seattle Sounders and moved the Tide under the umbrella of the Sounders Youth Development Program and changed the team’s name to Sounders FC U23.
So Saturday, when the PDL comes back to town, it doesn’t come back with just any team. It comes back sporting the name of the most popular franchise in American soccer today. And they don’t just play a random team from the Fraser Valley. With the Portland Timbers they bring the most rabid rivalry in all of American soccer to town. Whether that rivalry will trickle down to the junior members of the Sounders and Timbers franchises remains to be seen, but it won’t be your typical PDL match either way.
The game is another tryout for the Olympia area and a good crowd of both Sounders and Timbers fans will ensure that Olympia will see future PDL games. However, that doesn’t mean that Olympia will be getting their own PDL team any time soon regardless of how well the game is attended. The Sounders U23s own the rights to a PDL team in Thurston County and have made a commitment to stay in Pierce County. If anything, the U23s will abandon Pierce County in a few years to play at Starfire in Tukwilla where the Sounders youth program and their sister Sounders Women team are based. That will take an agreement with Washington Crossfire, who hold the rights to King County. But with Crossfire’s PDL team averaging less than 75 fans a game in Issaquah, it wouldn’t be a surprise.
Where does that leave high level soccer in Olympia?
Olympia does have semi-pro soccer. Thurston County Premier FC has a semi-pro team that competes in the American National Soccer League but they are not spectator friendly and are practically a secret organization. There is no schedule of their games online, no roster and almost no information of any kind is available. It is hard to even acknowledge that they exist.
The optimist might look at the model being forged by Bellingham United. The Hammers play in the Pacific Coast Soccer League and have grown a solid following in their inaugural season. But Olympia would be a bit far flung for the otherwise British Columbia based PCSL and would require committed and competent ownership and management to be successful, a skill and requirement that nobody has demonstrated in this town yet at any level.
Sounders FC U23 takes on Portland Timbers FC U23 on Saturday, June 2nd at Tumwater Stadium. Tickets for this historic Cascadia rivalry game are just $10 and can be purchased in advance here or at the gates. first kick is scheduled for 6:00 PM