Sounders FC developing headquarters, practice facility at Starfire
The Starfire Sports Complex near Seattle is poised to become the headquarters and practice facility of Sounders FC, the new franchise in Major League Soccer.
Seattle Times staff reporter
TUKWILA — Signs of the impending full-fledged arrival of Major League Soccer to the Starfire Sports Complex are everywhere.
Mounds of earth from what were once softball diamonds will soon be cleared to make space for a FieldTurf-surfaced field and a full-size grass field. The area of land, just north of the complex, will be where Seattle Sounders FC practices. Games will be played at Qwest Field in Seattle.
Inside the Starfire building, offices with shiny, new dark wood furniture are in place on the second floor. These offices are for Sounders FC general manager Adrian Hanauer, technical director Chris Henderson, there's even one for majority owner Joe Roth, though it's unclear how often he'll be around to use it.
More office space is being set up for coaching and technical staff, not far from where the United Soccer Leagues First Division Sounders currently have their offices.
A developer's rendering of the remodeled facility, situated close to Southcenter Mall, is on display in a meeting room. It's another sign of the changes and improvements to come.
"This just is the center of soccer in the Northwest today, Starfire," Hanauer said. "And so, assuming we get all the arrangements in place and we actually are here on a permanent basis, there isn't a better fit as far as I'm concerned in terms of where Sounders FC should have their home base."
Hanauer and Henderson say the complex will be the best training facility in 15-team MLS. First, however, there is the expansion and a finalized agreement to reach before the team officially becomes the primary tenant of Starfire.
The expansion was unanimously approved by Tukwila city leaders in a public hearing at the beginning of this year. Now, with work on the complex under way, there remain legal documents to be dealt with between the facility and the team, but that process is expected to go smoothly and be completed in the near future.
Starfire's expansion also includes a workout and fitness area for the team that will have some public access. There will be a computer lab for kids — Hanauer and Starfire CEO and chairman Chris Slatt made clear the complex will retain its community-based programs and accessibility — and more fields added for kids and adults.
"This is not exclusive for the Sounders," Slatt said. "It's a great opportunity for the greater community in South Seattle. What we're really trying to do is make sure kids aren't left out. Couple that with [Sounders FC] players in the same facility. To have kids be able to be that close, that's going to be cool."
There is a planned addition to the main building for more space for Sounders FC's locker room, various team rooms and a locker-room lounge. The entire project — costing undisclosed millions of dollars, to be financed by private and corporate donors — is slated to be completed by December.
Hanauer, a longtime contributor to Starfire, said he will solicit funding from Sounders FC's ownership partners, including Roth and minority owner Drew Carey, the comedian and host of TV game show "The Price is Right." Hanauer also said he would like to see Starfire perhaps further expand with the addition of more fields.
Slatt said Starfire was originally the first North American youth academy for British soccer powerhouse Manchester United, but that relationship ended when it became clear that Sounders FC sought the complex as its home.
Starfire's location is a plus.
"For a player being close to the airport and team travel, it's a good location," Henderson said.
A flurry of team operations activity is fast approaching. Sounders FC is likely to sign players from the USL team when that season ends in the fall, and continues to seek a designated player, presumably a foreign star whose salary can be separate from the league salary cap.
After the MLS Cup (league championship) in November, Sounders FC will hold its expansion draft. The team can select one player left unprotected by each of the 14 other MLS clubs. Teams can protect 11 players on their rosters.
In December, there is a supplemental draft. Then comes the SuperDraft in mid-January, which is the selection of college players that is preceded by a scouting combine in Florida.
Teams then bring their players to their home cities for physicals, and on Feb. 1, official preseason training begins. It runs through late March leading up to the start of the regular season.
Sounders FC will be in and out of Starfire in February and March, conducting a good part of their training in warmer-weather climates.
"Every team kind of has their little place," Henderson said. "It's wherever you can get the best deal and you can get good games. Usually teams will go to the same venue so they can play each other."
The team might also play an international match in another country during the preseason.
Starfire's 4,000-seat stadium, home of the USL Sounders, figures to be where Sounders FC's reserve games against other teams will take place. The reserves are the 10 developmental players on the 28-man roster, plus players from the 18-man roster to which the club wants to give additional playing time or an injury rehabilitation assignment.
Those matches can be seen free of charge and are open to the public.
"I never really considered anywhere else as a home for the team," Hanauer said.
José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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