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By ESPN Staff

Groups contending for MLS expansion team in Seattle

SEATTLE -- The list of competitors wanting to bring a Major League Soccer expansion team to Seattle is almost as lengthy as the roster of cities interested in landing a team in North America's top professional soccer league.

Vancouver, British Columbia, Portland and San Diego are some of the West Coast cities that have expressed an interest in bringing an MLS expansion team to their cities. But Seattle's chances appear to be rapidly moving forward, with a number of groups vying for the chance.

"We are in active discussions with 11 different markets," MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche said Wednesday. "Interest in MLS expansion is at an all-time high and it's great to see."

The potential for bringing an MLS team to Seattle gained momentum on Tuesday night after the Seattle Sounders of the USL beat the Colorado Rapids from MLS 5-0 in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup.

Sounders' owner Adrian Hanauer said there is significant movement in reaching an agreement for an expansion franchise that could begin play in the 2009 or 2010 seasons. The MLS has already stated its intentions of expanding to 16 teams in the next few years. The 13-team league will add San Jose next year, giving the MLS seven teams in its two conferences.

"Lot of interest. Lot of groups. And in particular there is a group that is the lead group, but there is a lot of work ahead to get it done," Hanauer said.

Hanauer said the lead group involves an individual -- not a collection of people -- who is willing to pay the $30 million fee for an expansion franchise.

Hanauer indicated he would have a role with this unidentified individual, and the team could initially play at Qwest Field.

While there are signs pointing in his direction, that doesn't mean Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is the individual.

"We think it would be great for pro soccer to find a home in Seattle," said Michael Nank, spokesman for Allen's Vulcan Inc. "Right now we are solely focused on the Trail Blazers and the Seahawks."

Two other groups that have publicly expressed an interest in having a franchise in Seattle are both California-based.

Atletico Seattle is fronted by California investors Larry Kosmont and Nevin Sanli and one-time French star Frank Lebouf. The group has already identified eight potential sites for a soccer-specific stadium in the Seattle area, Kosmont said Wednesday. Sanli and Lebouf had conversations with MLS officials a few weeks ago in Los Angeles when David Beckham made his debut for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

"How they actually proceed and with whom, I can't say," Kosmont said. "I think we understand what is needed to have a franchise."

California investors Michael and James Keston have also expressed a desire to own a franchise, but are looking at other West Coast cities besides Seattle.

"We've been speaking with potential investors for a number of years now. It's not something where we say we're 75 percent of the way there, or only 25 percent," league spokesman Courtemanche said. "We've got ongoing discussions."