They're baaaack. And in just a short bit of time, they might even be better than ever.
Soccer fans throughout the region celebrated the news in January that the Tacoma Stars — a stalwart of the old Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) from 1983-92 — were returning to the top flight of professional indoor soccer in the United States. Since the demise of the original MISL in 1992, the Stars have been revived in various forms — first as a member of the Premier Arena Soccer League, in 2003, and later as a member of the Professional Arena Soccer League (PASL), in 2010, before being revived a third time this past August as an amateur club, the Tacoma Galaxy, competing in the Western Indoor Soccer League (WISL).
With the rise of the Major American Soccer League in 2013-14, however — combining teams from the revived MISL and the PASL — indoor soccer was once again unified at its highest level in the United States, opening the door for the Stars' return to the top flight.
The original Stars franchise was a harbinger of the massive crowds that Seattle Sounders FC would draw two decades later, packing thousands of fans into the Tacoma Dome to see players like Steve Zungul, Preki and others. In 1987, Stars fans became just the first of many Seattle-area soccer crowds to break an attendance record, with 21,728 turning out to see the Stars lose in overtime to the Dallas Sidekicks in the MISL Championship Game.
"The Tacoma Stars represent a brand with a rich history in our area," says Stars head coach Darren Sawatzky, who also serves as head coach of the Seattle Sounders U23 team. "I remember the days when the Stars packed the Tacoma Dome. So many of those great players and coaches stayed here after being a part of that to build lives, and have helped shape the local soccer community over the past decades."
The current Stars franchise joined the MASL at midseason, replacing the Seattle Impact FC following a buy-out by Stars owner Lane Smith. Having already compiled a 5-0 record in the WISL, the team elected to finish out both their WISL and MASL schedules in 2014, before joining the MASL on a full-time basis for the 2014-15 season. Still comprised of mostly amateur players, the Stars have predictably struggled in their first games back at the top flight, but Sawatzky says the challenge of competing at the highest level was one the team couldn't pass up.
"This is another new challenge in the game," he says. "The challenge has been fun.Our team is an amateur team made up of differing backgrounds. The be thrust into a professional league with a few games remaining is a challenge at best. We built the team to win the WISL and we are working toward that goal. We view the remaining MASL games as an opportunity to learn and grow for next winter, and look at players that want to make that future professional roster. Any time you get to work with motivated players that have a common goal, it breeds a good culture."
Sawatzky notes that several of the team's current players have ties to the local soccer scene — even former Washington Huskies kicker/receiver/returner extraordinaire Joe Jarzynka has suited up for the squad in 2013-14. With the move to the MASL, Sawatzky says the Stars can play an important part in the overall development pathway for young players in Washington state.
"The overall opportunities for playing soccer in the Northwest have exploded with all the leagues and levels," he says. "We were proud to start this year in the WISL ... which serves as a launch pad for young players to chase the professional dream after they finish college. As we move into the professional version of indoor soccer, the MASL, the Stars will evolve. We want to become the Northwest winter destination for soccer fans. When you are taking a break in the winter, after the MLS Cup, come check out the Stars."
Currently, the team plays all of its games at Kent's ShoWare Center. A complete schedule, roster and ticket information can be found at tacomastars.wordpress.com.