The Sounders Return to Starfire

Guest bloggers, Robyn Stevens & Becca Rust, detail their experience attending a Seattle Sounders match at Starfire Sports. But not just any match, round 32 of the U.S. Open Cup—the oldest ongoing soccer competition in the U.S.

There’s something quintessentially Pacific Northwest about driving to a sporting event with the sunroof open, only to be met with a full-on downpour during the match, followed by clear, brisk night skies for overtime. Naturally, no one, from the fans to the players, were about to be deterred by a little rain. 

Neither of us knew much about soccer, and even less about the venue, Starfire Sports. But as soon as we arrived, fans and employees alike were all enthusiastic to share their passion with us, informing us along the way about the traditions, rules, and history that accompany the experience of a Sounders game at Starfire. There were food trucks and concessions, a live DJ, a beer garden looking out over the pitch, performances by Sound Wave (the official Sounders band), and even glimpses of some local wildlife—most notably a bunny who ran onto the pitch, disappointed to be fooled by the high-quality synthetic turf. If only he realized that five of the 12 total outdoor pitches are in fact grass, and he just happened to hop onto the wrong one.

Before the match began, we explored around the campus, learning about the various fields and all the different events they’re used for: youth teams, Sounders practice pitches, and adult indoor soccer leagues. There’s a cafe and restaurant in the athletic center, with good pizza and a variety of beers on tap. We learn that the players come out through a tunnel, where you stand close enough that you could high-five them as they make their way onto the pitch, and that here, getting an autograph from your favorite player after the game is a breeze. 

Waiting in line to pose with the recently-won CONCACAF Cup, we spoke with an old-school Sounders fan from Spanaway, Joseph Lieu, who loved Starfire games because “it’s much better and way easier to meet players than at Lumen Field. There’s more room to stand and meet and talk to the players one-on-one after the game. That’s how I met the entire team 8 years ago.” It is because of growing up going to Starfire games that Joseph is now going through school to become a sports photographer. 

A group of exuberant fans boasted to us about who had traveled furthest for the event, citing Port Orchard, Silverdale, and even one as far as Burlington, who had driven over an hour and a half to watch the Sounders. Chris Matala, however, didn’t have to travel nearly as far. Chris works in Tukwila, and is a frequent visitor for Starfire. “It’s fun to see the Sounders play here, to have pros on the field because most of the time it’s kids on the field. But those kids, they have more passion than the pros, because they are trying to get to the pro level.” We asked if they had favorite places to go out after the game, and they said that with all the great options, they couldn’t pick just one. Ryan Bennett piped up; “Tukwila has a lot to offer!”

When the match finally began, the crowd grew silent, and stood ceremoniously, raising their hands wide. The players walked proudly onto the pitch in two lines, and the ritual began. Clapping in unison, the crowd rhythmically grew louder and faster. And then the players were off, electrified by the intensity of the crowd. 

The Emerald City Supporters (ECS) fan club showed up in force. A quarter of the stands made sure the crowd never missed a beat with their chants and cheers. They had huge flags waving and bolstering the players tirelessly during the game. The crowd was rowdy and rambunctious like you want at a Sounders game, but remained family-friendly. 

Most of these players aren’t the Sounders’ typical starting lineup. Because of the nature of this tournament, it’s a great opportunity for coaches to put in newer, or B-string, players to get more time on the pitch. Still, plenty of recognizable names were out there, including local Kelyn Rowe. Kelyn grew up playing at Starfire as a kid, and described it as “cool, nostalgic to be back” on his (truly) home turf. It’s been about five years since the Sounders last played a match at Starfire, and it’s obvious the players have missed it. Forward Fredy Montero said, “It’s always fun to play with a crowd that is close, and we can hear every single one of them screaming and having fun.” The attendance at Starfire that night was 3,773, and while that may not seem like much to a Lumen Field regular, that’s nearly a packed house for the 4,000-seat Starfire Stadium.

The Sounders opponent for the night, the San Jose Earthquakes, managed to score twice before the Sounders came back with an answer. The rain started to drizzle, and we took it as a sign. The Sounders returned again to tie it up with just a few minutes left in regulation. During the action, we had the good fortune to meet Mark Bickham, one of the founders of Starfire Sports. Mark warned us that in this tournament, there are no ties. So when at the end of the 90 minutes (plus stoppage time) the score was still 2-2, we were in for an extra two 15-minute halves. By then the rain was coming down like only Western Washington rain could, but despite the overtime and the stoppage, fans stayed glued to the game. Slide tackles became involuntary, and splashes of rain gave players little halos when they headed the ball. Where the crowd noise used to rise as a player moved toward the San Jose goal line, now the crowd was excited just to see them cross midfield. The roar of the crowd never let up, outmatched only by the periodic rumble from a passing “Sounder” train, seemingly cheering on the team in its own right. 

Flash-forward to the end of overtime and neither team managed to score a goal. This meant  time for penalty kicks—each team gets five penalty kicks, and whoever has more at the end takes the game. The rain had let up by this point, but the 2+ hours of play had taken their toll on the players. But their determination seemed to be in equal measure, as they ended the 10-total penalty kicks still locked in a tie.  Next stop, “sudden death.” Each team kicks, and if one gets a goal and the other misses, it’s all over. Both teams go through player after player, making every goal in perfect synchronicity. Each player can only kick once, and they do. After 10 players from each team have taken their kicks, the Sounders and San Jose Quakes have each only missed one, two and a half hours after they took the field, at 9-9. The last players to attempt the kick are the goalies; who previously had been trading off guarding the net, now turn to face one another. The Sounders keeper, Stefan Cleveland, shot first. Unfortunately, unable to make the switch from saving to scoring, his kick was low and the San Jose goalkeeper Matt Bersano dived on the ball and made the save. Then they switched, Bersano squaring off against Cleveland. The crowd inhaled together. 

Bersano scored, ending the brutal shoot-out. Had Cleveland saved it, we would have continued penalty kicks, starting back at the top of the lineup. It was a disappointing end, though one could not have asked for a more exciting or intense game. Nevertheless, the crowd cheered for the Sounders’ tough battle, confident that all players had left everything they had on the pitch that night. 

Afterwards, we joined in on the post-game press conference. Sounders Coach Brian Schmetzer was proud of how well his team played throughout the match, despite the final score. Asked how he felt being back at Starfire, he instantly replied: “Loved it. Loved it. Ya know, when we scored the first goal you could just sense the crowd, there was a little bit of rain […] I loved it. I thought it was great.” Also, he was asked how many times he’d experienced a shootout that long in his career, to which he said:
“Never. Never.”

The Seawolves Make History at Starfire

Guest blogger Claire Schmitt details her experience attending a Seawolves Major League Rugby match. 

Sunday, May 8th, matchday. After a quick 25-minute drive south on I-5 from North Seattle and a whopping $6 for parking, we’re at the front gate of Starfire Sports in Tukwila. There’s a sense of familiarity and intimacy about the stadium. People of all ethnicities and ages walk around repping their Seawolves green and blue. It’s the epitome of a family-friendly spot; kids with soccer balls keep themselves entertained on the surrounding fields by taking shots into goals while the adults gather nearby to chat and grab refreshments before the match starts. It smells like well-manicured grass and summer days at the park. I’m in love already.

I leave my friends temporarily at the Chick’N Fix food truck, head past the concession stand and swag booth, get my bag checked, ticket scanned, hand stamped, and enter the stadium. The team is running warm-up drills on the pitch. As I stand at the perimeter field fence, the players are so close I could casually chat with them about what they ate for breakfast if I wanted to. Head Coach Allen Clarke walks up to some folks also standing near me and shakes their hands. I’ve never been to a major league sports event like this before—there’s almost no separation between the players and their fans. The whole atmosphere is refreshing. It feels personal, as if it’s the norm for the team to interact with the community at this level.

People keep steadily coming in and make their way to their seats. I head upstairs to grab myself a beer ($7 for stadium beer? I’ll take it!). When I get up there I see two women dressed head to toe in Seawolves gear. They look legit and one girl is eating a soft pretzel so I decide to approach. Their names are Mikaela Mattes and Kate Crabtree, it turns out they host the PNW Showdown Podcast. Mikaela and Kate cover a wide variety of Seattle sports but tell me rugby is special. 

“There’s a high level of respect in this game,” Kate says. “It’s relatively new in the U.S., but people here are really willing to explain all the rules of the game and what’s going on so it feels very welcoming and friendly,” she explains.

Mikaela chimes in,”Yeah, it’s like its own little pod here…” They exchange a look at each other as they realize the Seawolves pun she just unintendedly made. “Ooh, that’s a good one. We should use that,” Kate tells Mikaela and we all laugh. They tip me off about an exciting distinction for tonight’s game. Referee Kat Roche, the first female lead referee in MLR history, is back at Starfire. 

The match starts and my crew barely has enough time to get settled in our seats before the Seawolves make their first try (rugby’s version of a football touchdown or a soccer goal). The place goes wild. Green fireworks explode into the air. The Seawolves are leading the match within the first minute, not a bad way to start. 

The Dallas Jackals attempt to make it a real game when they score a try of their own at minute 8. For a split second you start to think, can we pull off this win? The Seawolves respond at minute 12, as if to answer my question directly, yes. #TogetherWeHunt. And together, they make it happen. They score another try and AJ Alatimu makes the conversion.

These guys are huge and when their bodies collide the sound it creates upon impact is loud enough to make every single person in the stands wince slightly. I’m half in horror at the fact none of them are wearing pads and half think it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen. The Seawolves dominate the pitch (aka the field). It seems like every time they get possession of the ball they systematically manage to drive their way towards the try zone.

Minute 19:40 – Seawolves score a try and conversion. Fireworks go off. Fans erupt.
Minute 31:52 – Seawolves score a try. Fireworks go off. Fans erupt.
Minute 34:16 – Seawolves score a try and conversion. Fireworks go off. Fans erupt.

It’s the end of the first half and it isn’t looking good for the other team. Rucky the Seawolf, the team’s beloved Orca mascot, is making their way around waving and saying hello to all the families celebrating Mother’s Day. There’s a Mother and son duo sitting in front of me looking enthralled. I lean over and ask the kid where he got the Dippin’ Dots he’s eating. He’s missing a tooth when he turns around and smiles at me. He shyly tells me, “the concession stand at the entrance.” I ask him how old he is, “eleven.” It’s their first Seawolves game, the mom tells me. We politely chat about the beautiful weather and I let them get back to watching the game. 

A whistle blows and the second half begins, but it’s already clear this will be a blowout. The Seawolves are relentless and won’t let up. Around the 60-minute mark, the Seawolves have scored so much that Starfire has run out of fireworks for celebration. 

Jim Stewart Allen or “Broccoli Guy”, a local legend and 2nd-grade substitute teacher turned social media influencer, has been dancing all game at the try line. I can’t resist an opportunity to meet him in person and take a selfie. Jim says the Seawolves have been extending him the personal invite for their games but he started attending during the 2021 season. “Starfire is unique because you get to be so close to the players and the game. I find that Seawolves games create an environment for more fan engagement which is really fun to be around,” he says. And I feel it too. 

When the scoreboard hits 80 minutes, the Seawolves stadium erupts in one last outburst of cheers and “Sweet Caroline” starts playing, setting the celebratory mood as folks file down the aisles towards the pitch and exit. We start to gather our belongings, but something strange is happening. No one is really leaving. The Seawolves and Jackals players are gathering together, shaking hands, taking photos, and in some cases even hugging one another. Weren’t you guys just trying to tear each other’s faces off? 

Players from both teams are approaching the fence to greet the fans and thank them for coming out to the game. Even Referee Kat Roche comes over! I shake her hand, congratulate her on the game, give player JP Smith a high-five, and take a photo with Seawolf (and 2x Tam USA Rugby Olympian!) Martin Iosefo. It’s a celebration, but not just for the winners or even one team. It’s a celebration for the sport of rugby.

The final score turns out to be an MLR record-setting outcome of 74-7, the most points and tries ever scored by a single team and the largest margin of victory at 67 points. But all records aside, to me, the fan experience is about whether or not I see myself as being a part of the Seawolves community. After this amazing night, the answer is clear. So to you, dear reader, I share the secret of the Seawolves. You’ll thank me later.

 

Visit https://seawolves.rugby to learn more about the Seattle Seawolves and find tickets to upcoming matches. 

 

The NEXT era of Tacoma Defiance at Starfire

The recent shake-up on the Seahawks roster got you concerned? Never fear—there’s another professional sports team with a community of die hard fans ready to take you in. And did we mention it’s just around the block?

The Tacoma Defiance are gearing up for their 8th season as a professional American soccer team, coming off of their most successful run since the organization’s debut back in 2015. With roots in Tukwila, the Tacoma Defiance are the reserve team for Seattle Sounders FC that provide the surrounding community with an exciting alternative to tier 1 sports that’s far more accessible and affordable for the average attendee. Many Sounders stars got their start wearing the Defiance jersey, like Jordy Delem, Josh Atencio, and Danny Leyva.

The fan base has grown steadily over the years, sticking with the team through thick and thin, cheering on their favorite players at both Starfire and Cheney Stadium. Last season, Sam Adeniran took fans on quite a ride by breaking the team record for most goals in a single season, landing a total of 13. Now, the team is making headlines once again with their recent announcement to join the inaugural season of MLS NEXT Pro.

The newest professional men’s soccer league in the U.S. and Canada, MLS NEXT Pro is the missing link that completes a pathway to the pros for rising stars. The league is also a great way to invigorate communities and introduce the youth to healthy lifestyles. As a commitment to this initiative, ticket sales for all Tacoma Defiance matches held at Starfire for the 2022 season will benefit RAVE foundation—the official charitable arm of Seattle Sounders FC that uses soccer as a way to support local communities. 

The exciting new era begins this March as the Tacoma Defiance along with 20 other clubs battle it out to be the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro champs. 

A total of 10 games will be played at Starfire this year. Catch their first match March 27th vs. Real Monarchs at Starfire Sports Complex. 

View their upcoming schedule and buy tickets here

Winter Fun for Everyone

Is it cold outside? Yes. Has the sun been replaced by a moody expanse of clouds and an omnipresent drizzle that appears to be falling from all directions? Absolutely. But is that going to stop you from getting out of the house and making the most of this PNW winter? No way!

Here are a few ideas for keeping active and enjoying some serious fun this season.

Take a Tour Through Sweets and Space


Seattle Chocolate Factory Tour
– After a small break, the Seattle Chocolate factory and flagship store is now accepting bookings for tours. Learn about how your favorite chocolates are made and sample some of the most decadent confections.

Museum of Flight– Pack up the whole family and head over to the Museum of Flight. This renowned collection of incredible air and space crafts, artifacts, galleries, and exhibits is just the right spark for your curiosity to light your way through the winter darkness. From the untold flight stories of World War II, to the heroic journey of the Apollo spacecraft to the moon, there’s something here to inspire everyone.

Feel the Rush of the Great Indoors

iFly Indoor Skydiving – Want a truly one-of-a-kind experience guaranteed to lift your spirits? Visit iFly Indoor Skydiving and jump into one of their state-of-the-art wind tunnels that provide a safe flight simulation experience. There’s nothing like it and unlike IRL sky falling, the weather is always memory-making perfect at iFly.

DEFY Extreme Air Sports Trampoline Park – If you’ve been all cooped up this winter and in dire need of getting those wiggles out, DEFY’s trampoline park is calling your name. It pairs safety with no constraints, offering foam pits, trapeze activities, obstacle courses, extreme dodgeball, endless trampolines, and more.

Bundle Up and Enjoy the Show

The Seawolves are Back! – The 2022 Major League Rugby season is finally here and the champion Seattle Seawolves are hosting their opener at Tukwila’s Starfire Sports on February 6 against the Toronto Arrows (booooo). Grab a hot beverage, bundle up in all your favorite Seawolves gear, and get ready for the season’s most exciting sports action in the PNW.

Want more ideas for winter fun? Check out our Activities page.

Summertime Fun in Tukwila!

Summer is here and we’re ready to shake off the past year, get outside, and enjoy the season. Here are a few must-try local activities to check out before the rain rolls back in.

Bicycling is a great way to soak up the sun and get some good exercise. Tukwila has great city bicycle routes, including connections to the Green River and Interurban Trails. The Green River Trail follows the scenic Green River for almost 20 miles from Seattle to Kent. Similar in miles, the Interurban Trail (South) connects Tukwila, Kent, Auburn, Algona, and Pacific along the historic route of the Puget Sound Electric Railway. Both offer great views and bike-friendly amenities along the way.

For those looking to test their swings, polo shirts, and cart driving skills, hit the greens at the Foster Golf Links, just minutes from I-5 and I-405 in Tukwila. Foster is a place for friends to develop their golf skills and enjoy the natural scenery and wildlife. Make sure to visit the course pro shop and restaurant while you’re there.

True to its name, Family Fun Center offers a broad entertainment lineup that everyone from Grandma to Junior will enjoy. This includes an assortment of outdoor attractions best paired with sunny weather, such as miniature golf, go karts, bumper boats, and batting cages. Check out the Wristband Special, which for a limited time, offers unlimited attractions at a discount price.

Perfect for those hot days with no AC, Tukwila Community Center’s Splash and Spray Park offers much needed respite from the summer heat. The park is packed with water-feature fun, like fish themed waterspouts, car wash style play areas, run through fountains, and more. It’s free for everyone to enjoy and open 10am – 8pm daily. Bring the kids and pack some snacks – it’s gonna be a long day!

Photo by Seattle Southside Regional Tourism Authority.

Want more ideas for summer fun? Check out our Activities page.

New Beginnings in Tukwila

Spring is a time to usher in the new, so we wanted to take this opportunity to highlight a few exciting new activities and openings to complement the season.   

In May, the two-time defending champion Seattle Seawolves kickoff their first homestand of the season, with games against Rugby United New York on May 2, San Diego Legion on May 9, and Rugby ATL on May 23. For those unfamiliar with the game, rugby is a thrilling mixture of team-based strategy, high-speed collisions, and skilled tackling, kicking, and dribbling — all done without pads! The games will be held right here in Tukwila at the Starfire Sports Stadiums, where every seat in this spacious, outdoor venue offers season ticket holders and casual fanatics alike an unforgettable show. Find out more about the Seawolves and how to purchase tickets to an upcoming game here.  

For those who prefer their action a little less full contact, check out the newly opened Legacy Gaming, which dazzles guests with a premium social gaming experience. Learn about the history of console gaming at the “Turn Back Time Zone,” bring the kids to the fun and educational “Kids Zone,” or just relax in the gaming lounge, which offers lightning-fast speed and performance for gamers. There’s a ton to do all under one roof, so grab a reservation today.

Speaking of relaxing, this spring also marks the grand opening of the Tru by Hilton Hotel. Tru offers easy access to the SeaTac Airport and downtown Seattle, as well as several shopping and entertainment destinations (including the Seawolves’ Starfire Sports campus, conveniently located just a few minutes away).

And finally, several popular stores are opening and reopening at our own Westfield Southcenter in the upcoming months, including AMC Theaters, Round 1, and Urban Outfitters, among others. Check out the Westfield Southcenter website for updates.

Experience something new this spring, Experience Tukwila!