Seemingly since the dawn of time, Puget Sound lacked the quality and quantity of field space to meet the demand of players, youth and adult. Finally, in 2005, an angel appeared, and his name was Chris Slatt.
A software executive and entrepreneur, Slatt became an angel investor and founder of Starfire Sports, which celebrated its grand opening in Tukwila in April. Festivities featured 96 teams from around the Northwest competing in a tournament on eight outdoor soccer fields, four of them lighted with an artificial surface.
Three years earlier, Slatt, Steve Beck and Mark Bickham approached the City of Tukwila after Fort Dent Park was obtained from King County. Starfire signed a 40-year lease and invested $10 million in developing the campus, including a stadium and fieldhouse (four softball fields are also part of the facility). Through Starfire's investment, taxpayers could be saved $12 million in operation costs over 40 years.
The biggest beneficiary, however, is the soccer community. There are more than 40,000 players in King County, with most wandering from field to field, sometimes town to town, and often sharing fields when they found it.
You just had to make do," said Craig Danielson, president of Highline Premier Soccer. "Running from school to school, there's never any consistency. The Starfire facility has all the amenities to take care of these kids."
"They were very forward-thinking when they designed it," said Dick Mohrmann, president of the Washington State Youth Soccer Association. "It will help with the growing need for fields and give us another place to hold our state tournaments."
Tim Busch, president of the Washington State Soccer Association, said, "It looks like it's going to be a first-class facility. That should lend itself to regional and possibly national tournaments. The new turf will allow much more (usage) than grass fields. Plus, the location is close to the airport."
"The buildings, the fields — it's awesome, unbelievable," said David Herrera, 22, who looked forward to days when his team in La Liga Hispana gets to use the Starfire fields.
The Seattle Sounders' first Starfire date was a U.S. Open Cup game, and nine days later packed the stadium with over 3,200 fans for USL match versus Portland. Later, the Sounders hosted two playoff games due to scheduling conflicts at Qwest Field. In all, they went 3-0-1 at Starfire en route to winning the USL championship.
Slatt took out $14 million in loans and formed partnerships with corporations, government, sports teams and community organizations. Maintaining Starfire will cost more than $500,000 a year, Slatt said. The county was losing $300,000 a year operating the park before.
The complex will earn revenue by advertising on the fields, user fees and corporate partnerships. Adult teams will pay in the range of $95 an hour for the FieldTurf fields, while youth teams will be charged about $60 an hour.
Slatt, a former technology entrepreneur, said his dream for the community came from the way sports helped his own two daughters. "When your kids are young, you hope you might raise the next Mia Hamm," he said. "As they get older, you realize that their success today is directly related to their experience on the soccer team. Understanding teamwork, how to set goals, what you do when you lose."
The Sounders' first championship in nine years (and third overall) resulted from a late-season postseason resurgence. They had won just two of their final 10 regular season games. Opening the playoffs with a Roger Levesque-fueled sweep of arch-rival Portland (3-0, aggregate), fourth-seeded Seattle then upset Montreal on the road in the semifinal second leg, 2-1 (3-2, aggregate).
Richmond, the sixth seed, was the unlikely opponent in the final, to be played at Qwest Field. After falling behind the Kickers early, the Sounders got a tying goal late from Cuban defector Maykel Galindo before prevailing in penalties (1-1: 4-3).