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New Goals Bring New Access, Opportunities for Players in South Tacoma

Tony Echaniz had players, coaches, and a passion for soccer — but little to no fields or equipment.

The Seattle Sounders FC and Washington Youth Soccer's "Soccer Across Washington" program had access to equipment and connections with local parks and schools, with the goal of helping an underserved community.

It just took one fortuitous meeting for both parties to realize they were playing on the same team.

"I met Tracy Murphy (Soccer Across Washington committee chair) at an event in Seattle and she suggested that we form our own club, which we called Tacoma United, and offered to help us find fields to play on," Echaniz recalls. "At the time, we only had 6-8 teams, but when word got out that we were starting a club, we got a lot of registrations and ended up with 12 teams — more than we had fields or equipment for."

Without their own fields to play on, Echaniz' Tacoma United players and coaches — 90 percent of whom speak Spanish as a primary language — were scattered across the region, to wherever a club could accommodate an extra few teams. It didn't help that most of Tacoma United's families worked low-income jobs, meaning the club needed to keep costs low to guarantee that the kids could continue to play.

As the club neared its third season, in 2011, Echaniz reached out to Tracy, Washington Youth Soccer President Doug Andreassen and Freddy Montero, Sr., father of the Seattle Sounders FC star forward and a frequent contributor to the community-building efforts of both Washington Youth Soccer and Sounders FC, and shared the club's story, and its efforts to grow participation in youth soccer in the more economically disadvantaged areas of South Tacoma.

The response was swift — "They said, 'we want to help,'" Echaniz recalls.

Murphy worked with Tacoma Public Schools' Building Use Supervisor Paul Koch and Building Use Secretary Kasey Kelly, and representatives of the Metropolitan Parks District to find underused fields and park space for Echaniz' teams to use, while Starfire Sports' Teddy Mitalas donated 100 balls to the club.

A short while later, Echaniz received notice from Andreassen that the Sounders wanted to donate goals to a local community. Having developed such a strong and cooperative working relationship with Tacoma Public Schools and the Metropolitan Parks Association, Echaniz suggested that the schools — not the club — would be the ideal recipients of the goals. That way, not only could players from Tacoma United and nearby South Tacoma Soccer Club use the goals on weekends, but schoolchildren and the local neighborhood children could benefit from the new equipment as well throughout the week.

In September, the new goals were installed at three elementary schools and two parks in South Tacoma, providing hundreds of children in the surrounding communities — not just Tacoma United players and teams — fields to be proud of.

"This couldn't have happened without the cooperation between the clubs, Tacoma Public Schools and the Metropolitan Parks Association," Andreassen says. "They've taken underused facilities and turned them into a fantastic resource for young children throughout these communities. It's a true testament to the power of hard work, cooperation and a commitment to community-building."

Echaniz echoes those feelings: "These goals were not donated to Tacoma United, they were donated to the community," he says. "I don't own them, the schools don't own them … they are for everybody."

Echaniz says that the new goals have had a significant impact on the schools, many of which would not have otherwise been able to upgrade their playground equipment. In addition, they have allowed the club to add additional teams in 2011 and cement an even stronger relationship with the local schools, thus increasing the playing opportunities for kids of all ethnic and economic backgrounds throughout the area.

"We want to give every kid in this area who wants to play soccer — whether they speak English, Spanish, or another language, whether they can afford equipment or not — the chance to play on a team and have fun playing the game," Echaniz says. "These goals, and all of the help that we've received from Tracy, Doug and Terry Fisher at Washington Youth Soccer, and Adrian Hanauer and everyone at Sounders FC, and the people at Tacoma Public Schools and Metro Parks, help more than I can say. "We are happy not just for our club, but for the schools, the other clubs in the area — the whole community," he says. "It's a win for everyone."