Tacoma Stars coach Darren Sawatzky has accepted the head coaching job with FC Tucson, a new United Soccer League One (USL1) franchise, the Kent-based club announced Wednesday.
Sawatzky, 45, who has coached in the Major Arena Soccer League for three seasons and was the 2015 MASL Coach of the Year, will help the Stars in their transition to a new coach.
Sawatzky’s final home game as coach of the Stars is Saturday against the Ontario Fury at the accesso ShoWare Center. Kickoff is 7:05 p.m.
USL1, a professional league in the United States and Canada, will begin play in spring 2019.
“My time with the teams here has been an incredible growth experience,” Sawatzky said of his work with the Stars and Seattle’s other development league teams. “I believe we built some incredible opportunities for players while winning championships along the way.”
After leading the Stars to an undefeated and league championship season in the Western Indoor Soccer League, Sawatzky accepted the coach and general manager positions when the team entered the MASL.
Under Sawatzky, the Stars secured a playoff position in 2015, his first year at the helm. He led the Stars to two playoff appearances in three seasons and a playoff win last year over perennial power and 14-time champion San Diego Sockers.
Sawatzky and club owner Lane Smith addressed the team before practice Monday. Though not completely unexpected, the news caught players by surprise.
“I’m in shock, honestly. That’s something I never thought I’d hear but not surprised at all that he’s got the opportunity,” Stars goalkeeper Danny Waltman said. “He’s a great coach, and, looking back, I knew it was a matter of time before he got an opportunity. Congratulations to him.
“He’s created a great family here that can handle this. It’s hard to imagine how we’re going to go forward, but we’re going to.”
Stars leading scorer Nick Perera said Sawatzky helped the organization in many ways.
“I’m very excited for Darren and the opportunity he has been presented,” Perera said. “He has been a special coach for this organization, and for me personally. He’s a true professional, and I wish him all the best in this new endeavor.”
Smith, a local businessman, solely owns the Stars. He and partners Cliff McElroy and Mike Jennings own the Sounders U-23, a USL League Two team, and the Women’s Premier Soccer League’s Sounders. Sawatzky has served as the general manager for both teams as well as the head coach of the Sounders U-23.
The Sounders U-23 claimed Western Conference championships in 2012 and 2015 and helped more than 70 players move on to professional contracts. The Sounders women wrapped up last season as the WPSL national champions.
“Darren and his family have really become an extension of all our families, and we wish them the best,” Smith said. “Looking back, I remember talking to Darren about re-launching the Tacoma Stars in the MASL. He jumped in from Day One, and I could not have done it without him.”