Sports

Major League Soccer kicks off at Qwest Field in 2009

By CASEY OLSON, The Mirror

It’s official: Major League Soccer is coming to the Pacific Northwest, much to the delight of the soccer-rich community of Federal Way.

The top professional soccer league in the United States announced Tuesday that Seattle will begin MLS play during the 2009 season. The Seattle team will play all its home matches at Qwest Field.

The Seattle team will be owned by Hollywood movie studio executive Joe Roth, Seattle Sounders managing partner Adrian Hanauer, actor Drew Carey and Vulcan Sports and Entertainment, the owner of the Seattle Seahawks.

“We are proud to award our 15th team to Seattle, a world-class city and tremendous soccer market,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “Additionally, the inclusion of Seattle in MLS provides us with a true gateway to Asia for a sport that is at the forefront of today’s globalization. We look forward to Major League Soccer’s debut in the Emerald City in 2009.”

There is no decision yet about the team’s nickname, and the team said fans will be asked for suggestions. The team’s Web site is mlsinseattle.com.

Seattle has a fairly long and storied soccer tradition. The city was home to the Seattle Sounders of the North American Soccer League from 1974 until 1983 and currently hosts the Seattle Sounders of the United Soccer League First Division. The Sounders have been crowned champions of the USL First Division two of the past three years including 2007, and have produced MLS players such as Houston’s Brian Ching and Chivas USA’s Maykel Galindo.

“I am thrilled about the opportunity to help shape the vision of an MLS team in Seattle,” said Hanauer, who will serve as the team’s general manager and will oversee soccer operations. “The Pacific Northwest has a long history of successful soccer franchises, from the youth system up through the professional ranks. We will continue to enhance and grow the soccer tradition featuring a mix of local and international players.”

The Sounders will play their final season in the USL in 2008.

The new Seattle franchise will be stocked with players from an expansion draft, with each existing team able to protect a certain number of their players. The specifics weren’t announced, but the new MLS team will be able to retain some of the Sounders players.

“As a lifelong soccer fan, player and coach, I have always been an enthusiastic supporter of the sport,” said Roth. “Seattle is the perfect city for a Major League Soccer team. The fans are supportive, progressive and open-minded — just what this great international sport needs.”

Hanauer brings six years of general manager experience to his new position. Under his watch, the Sounders went to the USL championship match three times in four years, capturing the title in 2005 and 2007.

The team will launch a supporters club patterned after the FC Barcelona model, which boasts the largest membership base for a football fan club worldwide. Carey will be actively involved in the club and the overall fan experience.

“I’m proud to be working with forward-thinking people,” Carey said. “And we’re all excited about bringing democracy to sports in America.”

The MLS Seattle season will kick off in April 2009, with a 30-match campaign that will feature 15 home dates taking place at Qwest Field. The upper bowl will be covered to create a more intimate atmosphere. With a seating capacity of 24,500 in the lower bowl, soccer fans will enjoy excellent views in a stadium that was initially built with the highest level of soccer in mind.

“We want Seattle sports fans to experience the world’s game — the passion, the energy, and enthusiasm, all of which will be on display at Qwest Field beginning in 2009,” said VSE CEO Tod Leiweke.

Season-ticket deposits of $50 per seat are now being taken. Fans can call (877) MLS-GOAL, visit www.mlsinseattle.com, or stop by the Qwest Field box office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

A deposit guarantees a place in line and priority to purchase MLS Seattle membership for the 2009 season. All deposits will be credited toward the membership purchase. Membership prices and locations will be announced at a later date.

Alan Hinton, a former Sounders coach with a long involvement in professional soccer here, believes it will be important to add some familiar names to fans.

“If they have some name players that this city recognizes immediately, I think it could be a bonanza,” Hinton said last week. “But the players who come here have to want to come, and settle into the lifestyle. If the owners do their homework right, I’m sure they’ll be successful. I truly believe that. I’m so excited. This is exactly what the city needs.”

The Seattle franchise, according to sources, will pay a $30 million expansion fee.

The MLS now has television agreements with four networks — Disney (which includes ESPN and ABC), Fox (through the Fox soccer channel), Univision, and HD Net. The MLS championship game, to be played Nov. 18, will be telecast on ABC.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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