Seattle is getting a minor-league soccer team. Here’s how Ballard FC went from vision to reality. – The Seattle Times

The tatted head of a ruby octopus peers though the patio fences of Reuben’s Brews in Ballard. Nothing unusual. Inventive muralist Henry (Ryan Henry Ward) has coated the Seattle neighborhood for a decade with mystical creatures of the Pacific Ocean and mountain ranges.
Henry’s latest piece is a glimpse, though, 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 its forehead that reads “Ballard FC” above imagery of the area’s bridge at sunset.
The true vision for Seattle’s newest team will be revealed Wednesday.
Once an independent city until annexed by Seattle in 1907, the still plucky neighborhood of Ballard will soon have its own team. Founded by former Sounders FC player Lamar Neagle and former Ballard High boys soccer captains, Chris Kaimmer and Sam Zisette, Ballard FC will debut in May 2022 as part of United Soccer League (USL) League Two’s Northwest Division in the Western Conference.
In the U.S.’s hierarchy of soccer, the Sounders and MLS are at the top, followed by USL Championship side Tacoma Defiance. The area doesn’t have a third-tier team, which would be part of either USL League One or National Independent Soccer Association (NISA). Ballard FC is part of the fourth tier and eligible to compete for a U.S. Open Cup berth.   
The home pitch will be Interbay Soccer Field, which was built in 1997 for the combined six-time NCAA champion Seattle Pacific University men’s and women’s soccer teams but lays dormant in the summer when Ballard FC will play.
“I could just see it right away, I could see it,” said Neagle, a former Sounders FC winger, of his newest venture. “With Interbay, it just seems like, why hasn’t this already happened? A soccer-specific stadium that doesn’t have a ton of teams just playing on it or some type of local team playing on it? It just makes sense.”
“With the response that we’ve gotten from the community, I knew they would rally around it,” said Neagle, whose roots are in Federal Way, leading Thomas Jefferson High to a boys state soccer title in 2005. “But I don’t think Sam, Chris or I knew that it would happen this quickly. We’re just excited that it’s coming to fruition.”
Ballard FC’s founders will launch their website (goballardfc.com) and social media accounts Wednesday. Via the website, people can put a $22 deposit down toward season tickets that will cost $99 for eight matches. USL2 has a 14-game season (seven home/seven away) May through July. Single-match tickets are expected to be $15. The club will also sell 300 season tickets sold for $99.
Everyone is invited to the official celebration of the team at Rueben’s on Dec. 9.
While billion-dollar stadium battles for pro teams are common across the country, Zisette, 27, never wanted part of that game. A journeyman midfielder, he was envious of his experiences playing for USL League Two side AFC Ann Abor and Spain’s CD Almunecar City.
In the shadow of Michigan football and Real Madrid, Zisette found there was still a thirst to be a spectator for other levels of teams.
“Getting to see that and play for that really sparked something in my brain,” Zisette said of originating the Ballard FC concept in 2017.
“CD Almunecar was doing a very similar thing to Ann Arbor but in this rich tradition of Spanish soccer,” Zisette said of the coastal town. “There were still people in the community coming out to support their town’s team. It showed me in a much more global, international way that community-level sports is alive and well, and there’s an opportunity to do that in the community where I’m from.”
Zisette met Neagle in 2019 while playing for the Tacoma Stars, an indoor soccer team based in Kent, but didn’t mention his ideas for building a team until July 2020.
It was perfect timing for Neagle, who dabbled in coaching and broadcasting Sounders games, searching for a different way to connect with soccer as he phased out his playing career.
Neagle, 34, had an unorthodox path to MLS, going undrafted and playing two seasons for the Des Moines Menace, which won the USL2 championship in July.
Working the graveyard shift at a gas station, training in the afternoons and winding down at the pool with teammates are fond memories for Neagle, whose only wish as a 20-year-old was for it to be closer to home. His aim for Ballard FC is to draw local aspiring pros to a professional club where they can get needed minutes during the NCAA offseason and sharpen their skills.
Ballard FC hasn’t named their coach or technical staff and likely won’t begin signing players — none of which 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.
Ballard FC, kicking off in summer 2022 in @USLLeagueTwo #welcomeaboard pic.twitter.com/GAj5jBk2da
While the concept of BFC feels preordained, it’s not unique.  
“This has been an experiment tried again and again since the 60s,” said Frank MacDonald, a soccer historian and executive director of Washington State Legends of Soccer, of teams like the Seattle Hibernian and Caledonian F.C. Saints, Seattle Hungarians and Puget Sound Hammers.
“Everybody is perhaps a little generous in what they think fan support is going to be and whether this Sounders attendance will translate to support of minor league clubs is a question no one has really figured out,” 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’re putting on entertainment and it’s heavily into promotions and not so much win-loss or wrapping your marketing around a player because they could be gone relatively quickly.”
But for Kaimmer, 34, it’s the “why” that could determine the outcome. He was added in March because of his skill of merging social impact with grassroots soccer — helping guide the trio to a goal of sustainability over profits. The group wouldn’t disclose the amount of their initial investment.
Ballard FC intends to be hyper local and family oriented, offering another niche gathering spot 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 nonprofit partners.
USL Championship side Oakland Roots, which added Marshawn Lynch as a member of the ownership group this year, is a model for Kaimmer. For the season finale in October, the Roots teamed with Lynch’s foundation to start a savings account and purchase stock for 100 kids and families to build their financial literacy.
“Marshawn has talked about it famously, ‘taking care of your chicken,’” said Mike Geddes, the club’s chief purpose officer, of Lynch’s 2020 message to former Seahawks teammates regarding preparing for future stability.
“The idea that you can use sports as a vehicle to achieve what you want in the community, that’s important to him and us,” Geddes said. “This is the hard way because people will hold you accountable and you have to get it right. But the key is to be authentic and I told that to Lamar, Chris and Sam — their way is not going to be the same as ours because it’s different communities. And it doesn’t matter. It’s having that purpose at the heart of your organization.”
For now, it’s pride in place for Ballard FC.
“There’s something beautiful about this level,” Kaimmer said. “It’s doable and we do think we’re on the wave of a group of entrepreneurs who are going to do this more and more in neighborhoods of large soccer-loving cities.”
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.

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