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Best of Tacoma 2019: Cheney Stadium soccer configuration

Writer's Pick: Best New Sports Venue

Jess Fishlock celebrates her goal against Washington Spirit June 15. Photo credit: Jane Gershovich/ISI Photos

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Funding formats for a new, soccer-specific field next to Cheney Stadium are under scrutiny and in the news at the moment, as the public-private dollar debate gets underway in earnest. While all of that is being hashed out, Tacoma already has a dynamic and exciting professional soccer scene in place and ready for growth -- whoever ends up paying for it.

With the relocation of its home games from Seattle to a soccer-configured Cheney Stadium this year, the Reign FC brought high-level, professional women's soccer to town. Add to that the arrival two seasons ago of the MLS Seattle Sounders farm club Tacoma Defiance FC, and the foothold of professional soccer and the growing passion of its fan base in Tacoma is undeniable. 

Forget the new field -- for now. In the meantime, the audience experience at Cheney Stadium in soccer setup is so exceptional we're awarding the historic field Best New Sports Venue for the new layout.

Reign FC was one of the inaugural eight teams in the National Women's Soccer League, founded as Seattle Reign FC in 2012. Rebranded simply Reign FC for the move to Tacoma, the team now features superstars such as Megan Rapinoe, also a U.S. women's national team standout. In all, eight of the Reign players represented their countries in the recent Women's World Cup in France. It's just one indication of the high level of soccer South Sound fans now enjoy right here in T-Town.

Tacoma Defiance, formerly Seattle Sounders FC 2, called Tukwila and Kent home before landing at Cheney Stadium. The team plays in a league known as the United Soccer League Championship. The USL is sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation as a Division II Professional League, placing it a notch below Major League Soccer in the professional soccer hierarchy.

While it wasn't a Major League Soccer matchup, the Seattle Sounders have already played a game at Cheney, too. They hosted the Portland Timbers in June. It was a losing effort in a U.S. Open Cup match (the cup is the oldest ongoing national soccer knockout competition in the U.S.) However, Sounders players had positive things to say about the grass pitch. Many of their comments, posted on after the game, focused on the crowd and the energy of the stadium.

The same is true from a fan's perspective.

The box seats behind the third base dugout and along the third base line put you directly at field level, close enough to smell the freshly mown turf and hear the player-on-player action of the game. Throughout the stadium, various perches and points of view provide singular sightlines. They are unique vantages you wouldn't get in a full-sized, soccer-specific venue.

I was able to check out Cheney's soccer look during the Sounders vs. Timbers matchup thanks to a friend who is a long-time Sounders season ticket-holder. Before heading to field-level behind the dugout, though, we sipped a pre-game brew in the beer garden and checked out part of the first half from the air-conditioned comfort of the Key Bank Summit Club, with a view looking directly down onto the south end goal.

No matter where you sit, Cheney is compact enough that you feel like you are right on top of the action. The stadium's intimate seating bowl is prime territory, but excellent perspective on the match can be had from the Summit Club, R Bar and the R Yard, which is perched above the north-end goal.

Long-time Tacomans have witnessed some 50 years of professional baseball history at the corner of 19th and Tyler streets, so seeing Cheney Stadium in soccer mode may take some folks a few minutes to get used to. But what's not to love: The stadium and its amenities are perfectly adapted for soccer and its thriving, expanding fan base in the South Sound.

CHENEY STADIUM, 2502 South Tyler St., Tacoma, 253.752.7707, milb/tacoma/ballpark/cheney-stadium

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