With Cisl Dead, Seadogs Weigh Their Options To Keep Kicking

Operators at Full House Sports & Entertainment were answering their telephones, "Full House, home of the Sonics and SeaDogs," as if nothing had changed when so much had.

The Seattle SeaDogs' future was cast in doubt yesterday after the Continental Indoor Soccer League folded, ending months of speculation about the league's health.

KeyArena still might be home to the SeaDogs, 1997 CISL champions, but not without finding a new league to join.

Indoor soccer officials are seeking a solution, giving SeaDog players a sliver of hope in another sorry chapter in the tumultuous history of U.S. professional soccer.

"The league is dead, but the people responsible for making the SeaDogs successful are still in place," said Bill Ackerley of the Ackerley Group, owner of the Sonics, SeaDogs and other media and entertainment interests.

The SeaDogs could join the National Professional Soccer League, a rival indoor league that plays in the fall and winter. A new league of CISL and other teams starting from Portland also is being considered.

"It's sad to see the league fold, but really there is new hope for another league because we still have all the teams," said Coach Fernando Clavijo, who has led Seattle since 1994.

Clavijo will help decide the best course for the SeaDogs.

"If there is a way to move into another league, we would certainly look at it," Ackerley said. "The challenge to Fernando is to ask him to come back to the company with a recommendation for what the next step should be. We trust his judgment."

Ackerley, though, said the company probably would reject being part of a new league.

"If we were going to get into a league we want to do something that is more established," he said.

Clavijo already has talked with Steve Paxos, National Professional Soccer League commissioner. Nine SeaDogs play in the winter league, which has 13 teams and is in its 14th season.

"There are a lot of options for us right now," Clavijo said. "We have to find out how real they are."

Although the coach was not given a timetable, the SeaDogs can't stay in limbo for too long.

"Obviously, the sooner the better," said Seth Spidahl, a defender who also coaches Tacoma Community College's men's soccer team. "The earlier we know the earlier we can find another team or get a regular job."

Clavijo asked his team to be patient while he tries to keep the franchise alive.

Paxos said it is time to unite the indoor leagues instead of trying to start a new one. That might not happen because Portland officials have formed the Premier Soccer Alliance, a group exploring the possibility of forming a summer league.

The Portland Pride led the CISL rebellion in November by abandoning the league because of conflicts with founder/commissioner Ron Weinstein. Houston, then Dallas followed, bringing down the league.

Bill Lavelle, Portland general manager, said a new league would need at least eight teams. But he said the group also is considering aligning with the NPSL, based in Ohio.

"We need to move forward with a huge league from coast to coast," Paxos said. "We've seen two indoor leagues fold. It always amazes me people out there think they can built a better mousetrap."

If the SeaDogs join the NPSL, they would have to build a home schedule around the Sonics and hockey's Thunderbirds, who also have winter seasons. Paxos said many NPSL teams share arenas with three, four and even five tenants. He said the league is flexible in scheduling and his teams get more than their share of weekend dates.

If the SeaDogs change seasons, the Ackerley Group probably would need to find new summer events for KeyArena, which it runs. Ackerley said the company might consider the WNBA, the rival professional basketball league to the Seattle Reign's ABL, and Arena Football if either league were interested in becoming a tenant. But he emphasized the focus is the next step for soccer.

Where that will lead is anyone's guess.

"It's something you accept when you play soccer," said Tom Bialek, a SeaDog midfielder who played at the University of Washington.

Seattle Times correspondent Tony Guadagnoli contributed to this report. -------------------------------------------

CISL chronology

The CISL started with seven teams and had as many as 15. A history of the SeaDogs and the indoor league:

-- June 17, 1993 - In the first CISL game, Arizona defeats L.A. United 6-4.

-- Nov. 20, 1993 - Seattle's entry in the CISL becomes official.

-- June 23, 1995 - In their first game, the SeaDogs defeat San Jose 6-5 in overtime.

-- Sept. 28, 1997 - SeaDogs defeat Sacramento 5-3 to finish 21-7, the best record in the CISL.

-- Oct. 19 - SeaDogs defeat Houston 7-1 for their first CISL title.

-- November - Houston and Portland announce they are leaving the league.

-- Dec. 19 - Dallas withdraws from the league.

-- Dec. 23 - CISL announces it is folding.