Seattle gets a minor league football team. Here’s how Ballard FC went from vision to reality.

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The tattooed head of a ruby ​​octopus peers through the patio fences at Reuben’s Brews in Ballard. Nothing unusual. Inventive muralist Henry (Ryan Henry Ward) blanketed the Seattle neighborhood for a decade with mystical creatures from the Pacific Ocean and mountain ranges.

Henry’s final play is a glimpse, however, is a glimpse into the future. The green-eyed octopus sports the first image of the city’s new soccer team, with a crest on the front that reads “Ballard FC” above images of the area’s bridge at sunset.


The real vision for Seattle’s new squad will be revealed on Wednesday.

Once an independent city until its annexation by Seattle in 1907, the ever-courageous district of Ballard would soon have its own team. Founded by former Sounders FC player Lamar Neagle and former Ballard High men’s football captains Chris Kaimmer and Sam Zisette, Ballard FC will debut in May 2022 as part of United Soccer’s Northwest Division. League (USL) League Two of the Western Conference.

In the American football hierarchy, the Sounders and MLS lead the way, followed by the USL Championship Tacoma Defiance. The region does not have a third tier squad, which would be part of USL League One or the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA). Ballard FC is part of the fourth tier and is eligible to compete for a place in the US Open Cup.

The home field will be the Interbay Soccer Field, which was built in 1997 for the six-time NCAA champion men’s and women’s NCAA football teams combined, but remains inactive during the summer when Ballard FC plays.

“I could see it right away, I could see it,” Neagle, a former Sounders FC winger, said of his new venture. “With Interbay, it looks like, why hasn’t this happened already? A football specific stadium that doesn’t have a ton of teams playing there or some type of local team playing there? It just makes sense.

“With the response we received from the community, I knew they would come on board with this,” said Neagle, whose roots are in Federal Way, leading Thomas Jefferson High to a soccer title in Boys State. in 2005. “But I don’t ‘I don’t think Sam, Chris or I knew it was going to happen so fast. We’re just thrilled that it’s coming to fruition.

The founders of Ballard FC will launch their website (goballardfc.com) and social media accounts Wednesday. Through the website, people can deposit $ 22 on season tickets which will cost $ 99 for eight games. USL2 has a 14-game season (seven at home / seven away) from May to July. Tickets for a game should cost $ 15. The club will also sell 300 season tickets sold for $ 99.

Everyone is invited to the official team celebration at Rueben’s on December 9.

Ballard FC owners, left to right, Sam Zisette, Chris Kaimmer and Lamar Neagle juggle the ball during a visit to the Loyal Heights Playground on Friday, November 19, 2021 in Seattle.  (Jennifer Buchanan / The Seattle Times)


“Sport at the community level is alive and well”

While billion dollar stadium battles for professional teams are common across the country, Zisette, 27, never wanted to participate in this game. A journeyman midfielder, he envied his experiences as a player for AFC Ann Abor of USL Ligue 2 and Spanish CD of Almunecar City.

In the shadow of Michigan and Real Madrid football, Zisette found there was still a thirst to be a spectator for other levels of teams.

“Seeing that and playing for it really sparked something in my brain,” Zisette said of the creation of the Ballard FC concept in 2017.

“CD Almunecar was doing a very similar thing to Ann Arbor but in this rich tradition of Spanish football,” Zisette said of the coastal town. “There were still people in the community who came to support the team from their city. It showed me in a much more global and international way that community sport is alive and well, and that there is an opportunity to do so in the community where I come from.

Zisette met Neagle in 2019 while playing for the Tacoma Stars, a Kent-based indoor soccer team, but didn’t mention his ideas for building a squad until July 2020.

It was the perfect time for Neagle, who tried his hand at coaching and broadcasting games for the Sounders, looking for another way to connect with football as he phased out his career as a player.

Neagle, 34, had an unorthodox journey to MLS, going undrafted and playing two seasons for the Des Moines Menace, which won the USL2 Championship in July.

Working in the graveyard at a gas station, working out in the afternoons and relaxing by the pool with his teammates are fond memories for Neagle, whose only wish at 20 was to be closer to home. . His goal for Ballard FC is to lure local pro aspirants to a pro club where they can get the minutes they need during the NCAA offseason and hone their skills.

Ballard FC have not named their coach or technical team and are unlikely to start signing players – none of whom will be paid – until January at the earliest. But the founders don’t think that will hinder their chance to fill the 900-seat stadium.

“Take care of yourself chicken”

Although the concept of BFC seems pre-established, it is not unique.

“This has been an experiment that has been tried time and time again since the 1960s,” said Frank MacDonald, football historian and executive director of Washington State Legends of Soccer, teams like the Seattle Hibernian and Caledonian FC Saints, the Seattle Hungarians and the Puget Sound Hammers.

“Everyone is maybe a little generous in what they think the fan support is going to be and whether this involvement from the Sounders will translate into support for the minor league clubs is a question no one has really understood. “MacDonald said. “You really have to position yourself more like the minor league baseball teams like the (Tacoma) Rainiers and the (Everett) Aqua Sox, where you run entertainment and it’s heavily in promotions and not so much on win-lose. or wrapping your marketing around a player because it might go away pretty quickly.

But for Kaimmer, 34, it’s the “why” that could determine the outcome. He was added in March because of his ability to merge social impact with grassroots football – helping to guide the trio towards a goal of sustainability rather than profit. The group did not want to disclose the amount of its initial investment.

Ballard FC intends to be hyper local and family friendly, offering another niche gathering place like the Ballard Farmers Market and Ballard Seafood Fest. Reuben’s Brews is a title sponsor. Ballard Food Bank, National Nordic Museum and Ballard Youth Soccer are the non-profit partners.

The USL Oakland Roots Championship team, which added Marshawn Lynch as a member of the Ownership Group this year, is a role model for Kaimmer. For the season finale in October, the Roots teamed up with the Lynch Foundation to open a savings account and buy stocks for 100 children and families to increase their financial literacy.

“Marshawn famously talked about it, ‘take care of your chicken,'” club general manager Mike Geddes said of Lynch’s 2020 message to former Seahawks teammates about preparing for future stability.

“The idea that you can use sport as a vehicle to achieve what you want in the community is important to him and to us,” said Geddes. “This is the hard way because people will hold you accountable and you have to do it right. But the key is to be genuine and I said this to Lamar, Chris and Sam – their path will not be the same. than ours because they are different communities. And that’s okay. It’s having this objective at the heart of your organization.

For now, it is the pride of Ballard FC.

“There is something beautiful about it,” Kaimmer said. “It’s doable and we think we’re on the wave of a bunch of entrepreneurs who are going to do it more and more in big city football-loving neighborhoods.”



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