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Originally published Saturday, May 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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USL Sounders to make Starfire their home base

The minor-league soccer team, in its final season as the United Soccer Leagues First Division Sounders in Seattle, is turning to Starfire Sports and Entertainment Complex in Tukwila as its home pitch.

Special to The Seattle Times

Today

Portland Timbers @ Sounders, Qwest Field, 7 p.m.

The Seattle Sounders grew accustomed to calling Qwest Field home over the past five seasons.

But the team, which is in its final season as the United Soccer Leagues First Division Sounders in Seattle, is turning to Starfire Sports and Entertainment Complex in Tukwila as its home pitch.

Seattle is to get a Major League Soccer franchise, Sounders FC, in 2009, and it will play at Qwest.

The Sounders, the defending USL First Division champions and the league's only four-time titleholder, open their 2008 home schedule with their only scheduled home match at Qwest Field at 7 p.m. today against Interstate 5 rival Portland Timbers.

It's possible that today's match could be the only contest at Qwest for the USL Sounders in 2008.

Sounders forward Roger Levesque said it felt weird to come to Qwest for Wednesday's media day and practice, knowing the team will play at Starfire.

"To practice at Qwest for media day, it brought back memories," said Levesque, the sixth-year Sounder who is questionable with a sprained ankle suffered in the second match of the season. "It [Qwest] has been a great venue for us. But we're comfortable training at Starfire after the years of doing that.

"We've had a handful of games there [at Starfire], and they've gone well there, including winning the championship there last year."

The flip side is playing away from downtown and some of the team's most loyal fans.

"Qwest's been a great venue for us and a top-class facility for soccer," said Levesque, who, like all 11 starters who return from the title team, hope to make the jump to MLS in Seattle next March. "Playing there has done a lot for us, and we were excited to be so close to the city even though we didn't put 50,000 in there.

"It's always felt like home. Hopefully, Starfire has a similar feel to it."

The Sounders opened their first three-match road swing at 1-1-1 with four points. The Timbers, who have outscored foes 5-1, enter a perfect 3-0 and lead the USL First Division with nine points.

The Sounders have gone 7-1-1 in five seasons of part-time play at Starfire.

Bart Wiley, USL Sounders general manager, said it is possible to play Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup games in the late rounds and USL playoffs at Qwest later this season.

The Sounders beat the Atlanta Silverbacks 4-0 for the 2007 USL First Division crown at Starfire, which seats about 4,800. Qwest holds about 67,000.

Wiley thinks practicing and playing at Starfire could provide more continuity and a smoother transition for those hoping to get on board with the MLS club.

Chris Henderson, Sounders FC technical director, is based at Starfire and can watch the USL team practice, Wiley said. Also based at the facility is Adrian Hanauer, USL Sounders managing partner and Sounders FC general manager.

"They're all together there," Wiley said. "This is one gigantic contract year for these players. This is an ending, but there's bigger and better on the horizon. It will be a unique year."

Coach Brian Schmetzer considers himself a candidate for Seattle's MLS job next season and understands the twofold nature of 2008.

"It's kind of like wearing two hats," said Schmetzer. "We want to win a USL championship, and we want to find players for MLS."

Notes

• Levesque, who had nine goals and 13 assists last season, likely will miss his second consecutive match after suffering an ankle sprain in the April 26 match at Portland.

• Defender Kevin Sakuda will make his 129th consecutive start overall and 114th in USL contests.

• The Sounders will face the Timbers for the fourth time in six home openers, all at Qwest. Seattle is 2-1 in home openers against Portland.

• The Timbers feature new Japanese national team player Takayuki Suzuki, a forward who has one goal and one assist in his three matches.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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