High velocity: USL kicks off in Spokane

Hagadone News Network | March 21, 2024 1:00 AM

SPOKANE — Since it was announced in late 2021 that the United Soccer League would be coming to Spokane, soccer fans across the Inland Northwest have been waiting for the first match of the Spokane Velocity’s inaugural season; come March, that wait ends.

The Spokane Velocity, a men’s soccer team competing in the USL League One, is one of three USL soccer teams that will compete at ONE Spokane Stadium.

“I feel Spokane is an incredible sports market, and the location and the brand-new stadium had the makings of something really great,” said Ryan Harnetiaux, co-owner of USL Spokane. 

Harnetiaux, who is from Spokane and is joined by his wife Katie Harnetiaux as a co-owner, got involved with bringing the USL to Spokane in April 2022, having monitored the development and construction of ONE Spokane Stadium. A lifelong soccer fan himself, Harnetiaux contacted the USL seeking ownership in the club.

“The mixture of sports and business for us was a really interesting idea,” Harnetiaux said. “The stadium being right downtown, in this area on the north bank that’s really going through a revitalization, was an interesting investing idea on my part.”

From then, it came down to looking into both the USL and the deal that was in place with the Spokane Public Facilities District as it related to the construction of the stadium. Once an investor group was created, a nearly year-long negotiation process was begun with the SPFD regarding the club’s lease at ONE Spokane Stadium, which resulted in a 20-year lease broken into one 10-year contract with the option to renew in two five-year leases.

“It was about five months of talking with other club owners – not just in the USL, but in other professional leagues,” Harnetiaux said. “Pouring over financial data, looking at the market and trying to understand as best I could how I felt that Spokane would support professional soccer in the same way it supported other major events.”

While the Spokane Velocity begins play in March, they won’t be the only USL team in Spokane playing their inaugural season this year; the Spokane Zephyr, a professional women’s team, will kick off in August.

The addition of a professional women’s team was a must-have for the Harnetiauxs.

“That was a deal-breaker for us; we didn’t want to just do the men’s team,” Harnetiaux said. “Having a team that was professional for women was equally as important to us. We got that thrown into the deal when we were doing our negotiating with the league.”

The Zephyr will compete in the USL’s Super League, which recently reached Division 1 status by the U.S. Soccer Federation in mid-February. 

“The league had to go apply for it, but that application is made up of not only the league strength but the markets; where they are, you have to be in a certain amount of time zones, you have to have stadium size that meets a certain requirement,” Harnetiaux said. “There’s a lot of things you have to do to be sanctioned Division 1.”

Kicking off in 2025 will be a USL W League team, a pre-professional women’s league made up of collegiate athletes. 

“These are women who are playing college soccer generally, and they’ve got a little time off when their season ends in the spring and they go back to train with their universities,” Harnetiaux said. “Most of these players look for summer experience; some of them go back to their clubs that they grew up playing with, and maybe play in one of the other pre-pro leagues. USL has the largest, most organized network – there were 80 teams last summer.”

Ian Bivona may be reached via email at ibivona@columbiabasinherald.com.

    Spokane Velocity forward Josh Dolling, left, kicks the ball during a Feb. 10 scrimmage.
    A rendering of ONE Spokane Stadium. USL Spokane co-owner Ryan Harnetiaux said the construction of the stadium was a significant factor in him becoming involved with the club.