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Saturday, April 16, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seattle's chances for MLS team take a hit

Special to The Seattle Times

The price of inflation could drive Major League Soccer away from Seattle.

Seattle Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said this week he is no longer willing to pay all of the MLS's franchise fee, which is expected to rise before the next expansion.

The local push for MLS, led by Hanauer, came up just short when the United States' top pro soccer league awarded Salt Lake City the second of two new franchises for 2005 last July.

"Seattle was very close," Garber said amid the 2005 MLS preseason hoopla earlier this month. "They are certainly at the top of the list."

But the playing field has changed, possibly leaving Seattle on the outside looking in when MLS expands again, most likely in 2007. Although, according to The Associated Press, San Antonio could get a team as early as 2006 if several conditions are met under an agreement reached this week between the league and city.

The MLS has agreed to grant San Antonio a team if an ownership group is secured, 5,000 season tickets are sold by Aug. 17 and plans are completed for construction of a training complex that includes youth soccer fields.

Hanauer's family was willing to commit 100 percent as investors last year when MLS's franchise fee was $10 million.

The price surely will rise, according to Simon Borg, MLS director of media relations.

And if it does, Hanauer and his family would need someone to contribute at least half of the new investment total to get an MLS team here.

"MLS wants to be in Seattle, but we need an ownership group to back it for years and years, and I can't do it by myself," Hanauer said. "If I make a gazillion (dollars) tomorrow, I might do it myself, but even then I might not. I don't want to be the only one fighting for MLS here.

"I'm passionate about it, but I'm not going to do it alone."

There doesn't appear to be anybody else locally that's willing to take the financial plunge, leaving Seattle further away from landing an MLS squad.

MLS officials are aware that Hanauer's stance has changed.

"Initially, the investment from the Hanauer family was going to be 100 percent," Borg said. "MLS has come to know that the situation has changed.

Steve Pastorino, Real Salt Lake's general manager, said every expansion situation is different.

"Lots of people thought putting together an expansion team essentially from scratch in eight months was a tough thing to do," he said.

Salt Lake City is looking to build its own stadium, but will play at the University of Utah for the first two seasons. Seattle is a little more ready-made with Qwest Field available.

Hanauer, whose assets include three Seattle-based businesses, isn't making any predictions.

"I don't believe in miracles," Hanauer said. "It's not anything that's really all that obscure or complicated. It's going to take one rich, passionate person to call me and say, 'I want to do this. Let's do this.' That could happen tomorrow or it could never happen."

The MLS expanded to 12 teams for 2005 by adding Chivas USA of Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake.

MLS hopes to grow to 16 teams by 2010, and still considers Seattle one of five markets in the running for the next round of MLS expansion, along with Houston, San Antonio, Cleveland and Toronto.

"Seattle's a market that the commissioner continues to list as one we're interested in," said Borg. "They are in the running for the next round of expansion. ... "It's a soccer market. The tradition of the game there and the support of the game has been there. Plus, hosting the Gold Cup, U.S. National team games and other major international games makes Seattle one of America's best soccer markets.

"Seattle's shown to be a city in love with the game."

Borg said Seattle remains a market that MLS is interested in, as long as there are three elements that exist.

"First, there needs to be an ownership group with a local owner," Borg said. "Secondly, there needs to be an appropriate stadium plan to house a team. Thirdly, there needs to be a market ready to embrace and support the team."

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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