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Originally published April 12, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 12, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Former nemesis now a Sounder

Turns out the player the Seattle Sounders grew to hate most the past five seasons when playing against their arch-rival Portland Timbers...

Special to The Seattle Times

April 21

Regular-season opener

Sounders @ Vancouver, 7 p.m.

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Turns out the player the Seattle Sounders grew to hate most the past five seasons when playing against their arch-rival Portland Timbers was also the one they coveted most.

Midfielder-forward Hugo Alcaraz-Cuellar's persistent play irritated the Sounders during a time that saw the native of Mexico become the Timbers' all-time assists leader.

It also got the Sounders' attention.

The 30-year-old Alcaraz-Cuellar, who led the United Soccer League's First Division in assists with 10 in 2004 and 12 in 2005, signed with the Sounders on Feb. 27.

The 5-foot-11, 160-pounder was introduced as one of two big offseason acquisitions, along with former Minnesota Thunder forward Nathan Knox, on Wednesday as part of Sounders' Media Day activities at Qwest Field.

The ultra-competitive Alcaraz-Cuellar, who had 41 assists in five seasons with the Timbers, looked comfortable with his new teammates despite going head-to-head against them since 2002.

April 21

Regular-season opener

Sounders @ Vancouver, 7 p.m.

"He was a pretty easy choice to go after," said Sounders sixth-year coach Brian Schmetzer. "We stole away the best player from the Portland Timbers. He's a crafty and sneaky player."

Just ask Sounders veteran defender Zach Scott about his classic duels with the pesky Alcaraz-Cuellar.

"He can be so frustrating," said Scott. "We pounded on each other pretty good when we played."

Alcaraz-Cuellar said he really had no choice but to leave Portland, which was in the midst of change with former player Gavin Wilkinson taking over as coach.

"Portland was going in a different direction, and I don't think Gavin was interested in having me back," Alcaraz-Cuellar said. "[Sounders general manager] Adrian [Hanauer] gave me a call in the offseason. I was shocked that they were interested, because they have their base of players in Seattle."

The Sounders, who won the 2005 USL First Division championship, started slowly in 2006 and never recovered to miss the playoffs for just the second time in 13 seasons since the franchise was reborn in 1994.

But Seattle appears reloaded for a title run despite losing last year's top two scoring threats in forwards Maykel Galindo and Cam Weaver, the Kent native who won 2006 USL First Division Rookie of the Year honors.

Galindo caught on with Chivas USA of Major League Soccer (MLS) and Weaver moved overseas to join F.C. Haugesund, a First Division club in Norway. The 6-foot-2 Knox, a native of New Zealand, could be the man to pick up where Weaver left off as the target forward.

"I like the style the Sounders played, one where they have good position high up the field," Knox said. "And I especially wanted to go to a team serious about winning the league championship."

Notes

• Hanauer said he recently purchased a share in Cambridge United, a third division club in England. Hanauer said he hoped that his ownership in the club "might create the opportunity for player or coach exchanges with the Sounders."

• The Sounders added two new assistant coaches, former player Darren Sawatzky and goalkeeper coach Tom Dutra.

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