Seattle at "top of list" for MLS team in 2006

Yesterday was Salt Lake City's day to bask in the glow of having received a Major League Soccer expansion franchise. But Seattle is far from an afterthought, even though it did not get a team for next season.

MLS commissioner Don Garber is already thinking ahead to further expansion of the 12-team league, and Seattle appears to be first in line to receive the 13th pro soccer franchise when MLS is ready to announce its two new 2006 franchises.

"They are certainly at the top of the list," Garber said when asked about Seattle's status. Other cities considered prominently are Cleveland, Houston and Philadelphia

Garber, who spoke to reporters after the formal announcement of Salt Lake City as the next MLS team to open play in 2005, said Seattle was "very close" to getting the team that was awarded to Salt Lake City.

"Adrian Hanauer and his family and partners are very committed," Garber said, referring to the Seattle Sounders general manager who fronts a group of investors that seeks to bring MLS to Seattle. "It's a strong soccer market with a great history of success, at the A-League, college level and women's sports."

But Salt Lake's ownership group was deemed more ready than Seattle's, and the nation's top professional soccer league went with local sports entrepreneur Dave Checketts' bid for a team.

Garber confirmed that he is discussing an estimated payment of $1 million from Hanauer's group to secure rights to a Seattle franchise for 2006, which Hanauer has said he plans to make in the coming weeks.

Garber called Seattle a great sports town and recognized that Qwest Field, which would house an MLS team, was built not only for football but with the idea that pro soccer could make a home there as well.

"We like to think of it (Seattle) as the gateway to Asia," he said, adding that Seattle could be a good location from which to expose the product to Pacific Rim countries.

José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or