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Originally published Tuesday, January 1, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Seattle's soccer community ready to live the dream

starting in 2009, Seattle and Qwest Field will be the home of the newest Major League Soccer franchise — we should reflect on our...

Special to The Times

Now that it is official — starting in 2009, Seattle and Qwest Field will be the home of the newest Major League Soccer franchise — we should reflect on our 10-year journey to get here.

Ten years ago, on a cold spring day when I stood on a milk box at Marymoor Park in Redmond to encourage soccer moms, dads, coaches and players to vote for the new stadium, I was speaking to and for thousands of Washington soccer enthusiasts who wanted the MLS dream to come true. I made a promise to them that one day the new stadium would be the home to an MLS team.

Let's not forget that Washington's 130,000 registered youth players represent on a per-capita basis the highest number of youth soccer players in the nation and that on any given night a large number of adult players gather upon every available pitch in King County to play.

Nor should we forget the contributions of Scott Oki, Neil Farnsworth, Adrian Hanauer and the other Seattle Sounders owners who kept professional soccer alive in Seattle to fuel the dream.

How Seattle finally got its MLS franchise is a saga of citizen passion, advocacy, persistence and a successful public/private partnership. Most important, it's a promise made to the voters of our state and delivered on. At the heart of this promise is Qwest Field and how it was built as a true world class, dual-use sports stadium. Today, we have one of the few stadiums in the world carefully designed as an ideal venue for professional soccer and professional football.

In 1996, when Paul Allen announced he would buy the Seattle Seahawks only if the public agreed to build a new stadium, it was music to the ears of the Seattle-King County Sports and Events Council and a small group of volunteers searching for a site to build a soccer-centric stadium in King County.

With Allen's enthusiastic support for our suggestion that the stadium should accommodate both football and soccer, the soccer community and Seahawks fans responded.

On Election Day, those soccer fans were the critical margin of victory in the stadium's razor-thin approval. That vote also resulted in the creation of the Washington State Public Stadium Authority, to which I was appointed by Gov. Gary Locke. Our mission was to oversee the construction of a football/soccer stadium and manage the public's $300 million investment.

A critical responsibility was the final approval of the stadium design. Making sure that the new stadium would be a world-class venue for soccer, as well as football, was a top priority of mine. So we took the stadium plans to one of the 1994 World Cup architects and his recommended design changes were incorporated in the stadium by the Seahawks' owners. The soccer pitch required international dimensions, the crown of the playing field had to be reduced and the sightlines needed to be unobstructed, among other things. We were delivering on the promise.

How appropriate that the inaugural sporting event in Qwest Field (then known as Seahawks Stadium) on July 28, 2002, was a soccer match between the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps. Qwest Field has been the home of the Seattle Sounders, hosted sold-out international matches and a U.S. Men's National Team game, and now will be home to Major League Soccer.

Seattle is poised to take its place among the best soccer cities in the nation. We have a state-of-the-art facility and an ownership group with deep roots in soccer committed to Seattle and Major League Soccer.

Let's remember that none of this would have happened without the commitment and perseverance of thousands of soccer players, parents, coaches and volunteers who make up the soccer family of Washington.

Ten years ago, a promise was made that inspired their vote of confidence. That promise has been kept. Therefore, it is no surprise that in just a few weeks, more than 10,000 season-ticket deposits have already been made.

We are ready to live the dream.

Fred Mendoza is a volunteer leader in the Seattle area soccer community and vice chairman of the Washington State Public Stadium Authority.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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