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MLS expands to Northwest; Seattle to field team in 2009
by Ridge Mahoney, November 12th, 2007 7AM

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No surprise here: On Friday, the MLS Board of Governors approved a Seattle franchise to start play in 2009 as the league's 15th franchise. MLS commissioner Don Garber will be in Seattle Tuesday for a formal announcement. The new team will play at Qwest Field, home of the NFL Seattle Seahawks, and might or not be called the Sounders, the nickname used by a popular but ultimately defunct North American Soccer League franchise (1974-83) as well as a current member of United Soccer Leagues.

The ownership group includes Sounders managing director Adrian Hanauer and his family, entertainment mogul Joe Roth, and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, whose company Vulcan Sports and Entertainment operates the Seahawks. Comedian Drew Carey is also listed as a member of the ownership group in one news report. Most groups that run MLS teams, as well as the league itself, are LLCs (limited liability company) but no company name or title has yet been announced by the Seattle group.

Hanauer, whose family holdings run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, had nearly put together a viable ownership group a few years ago but couldn't attract sufficient investment to earn MLS approval.

Roth is believed to be the partner with the largest ownership stake, and his interest in MLS - not expected to make a big dent in his personal worth estimated at $750 million - had first been reported in the Puget Sound Business Journal in August.

Contrary to some reports, Allen does not own Qwest Field. It is operated by First and Goal, Inc., (FGI), a company formed by Allen to serve as developer and operator of Qwest Field & Event Center along with the Public Stadium Authority. Tod Leiweke, brother of Anschutz Entertainment Group president Tim Leiweke, is the Seahawks CEO and president of FGI.

Gold Cup matches and international friendlies have been played at Qwest Field since it opened in 2001. A crowd of 66,830 watched an exhibition game between D.C. United and Real Madrid at Qwest Field last year.

Manchester United played Celtic in 2003 and Chelsea played the Scottish team there in 2004. The surface is Field Turf, which would give MLS five teams playing on the fake stuff in 2009 along with New England, Red Bull New York, Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC.

MLS expects to announce another new team for the 2009 season in the next two or three months to form a 16-team league.

St. Louis and Philadelphia head the chase for that slot, with Portland leading a pack of several other cities vying for inclusion when the league next expands, perhaps in 2011.



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